By: Dian Paramita
Over a decade ago, it surprised me when I met many women who were worried about being women. Growing up in the peaceful city of Yogyakarta in Indonesia, I have never felt that way. I was oblivious to the difference between women and men in general. I did not feel underestimated at work. Neither did I feel the need to convince the world that I was as good as a man. But it turns out that I have been blinded by privilege. I now realize that not all women are raised in an open-minded family that values courage and equality. Not all women have the opportunity to get an education. Many don’t even have the freedom to decide what they want to do in their lives. These are privileges that I took for granted.
Since then, I have worked on various social campaigns and met many inspirational women that did amazing things for their communities. And I realized, many of them do not have the privileges I do. Yet they can be so powerful. So inspirational in making the world better. So how did they do that?
Yesterday, I watched 350.org interview Raya Famau Ahmed, one of the community leaders in Lamu, Kenya. The Lamu community has fought for years to stop Kenya’s first coal power plant from being built. And in 2019 came a huge victory for the community and its women. Kenya’s National Environment Tribunal canceled the Amu Power Company’s license due to a lack of effective public consultation and environmental risk. Raya played a big role in that movement.
“When disasters strike, men will run away but women, by nature, will not run. They will sit back and protect what’s dear to them – their children, the land, the chickens, the goats, everything,” says Raya. Raya reminds us that women are born fearless, powerful, and true loving leaders.
In different parts of the world, women leaders are taking great strides. Greta Thunberg and her phenomenal campaign to fight climate change in the world have inspired other women like Lynn Ocharoenchai, Maria Novita Saragi, Jochelle Magracia, and Nadiah Zulfakar to lead mobilizations in their respective countries.
Aleta Baun and her noble movement organized hundreds of local villagers protesting against the destruction of sacred forest land in Indonesia. She was able to gather more than 150 people to peacefully occupy marble mining for a year.
Malala Yousafzai is known for her bravery in fighting for women’s rights to education in Pakistan. Emma Gonzales made a provocative speech in fighting for gun control in America. Feroza Aziz and her viral TikTok video informed many young people about the plight of the Uyghur people in China.
The inspiring Gloria Capitan led a fight against a local coal plant facility that is polluting her community in the Philippines. She continues to inspire more people to join the fight, even after losing her life.
Unfortunately, although they are born fearless and powerful, not all women have the same opportunity as Greta, Malala, or Feroza. And climate change has only worsened the situation. Of course, climate change has been a burden and a challenge for everyone, but not equally. Women face the greatest impact of climate change in many ways.
For Nitya Rao, a gender analyst from the University of East Anglia, saying men suffer in oneway and women suffer in another is oversimplifying the problem. “It’s not just women as a category, but which women are we talking about. Similarly, it’s not men as a category, but which men are we talking about. So we can look at class for instance or wealth, and we can look at ethnicity and caste,” says Rao.
For women who are living in poor rural areas with strong patriarchal cultures, being part of a movement and winning a fight is significant, as it is a symbolic representation of their power and strength in the community. It gives them the opportunity to fearlessly express their opinions, leads them to discover a part of their identity they thought they never had and empowers them to decide their own future.
Wildfires, hurricanes, floods, droughts and other extreme weather events caused by climate change affect the food and water supply, leading to conflict and poverty. And families who are already living in poverty are hurt the most. It takes longer for them to survive natural disasters and it will trap them in poverty even longer. This phenomenon often impacts women’s rights to education, health, discrimination, freedom from violence and abuse.
For example, when a poor family can only afford to send one child to school, they often choose their son to get an education. Meanwhile, they choose to keep their daughter at home to do domestic chores or to help them make money at home.
Natural disasters also force people to leave their homes which will increase higher risk of violence, exploitation, and health problems for women. They are forced to stay in shelters or in unsafe environments. In such places, women are more likely to face sexual and physical abuse, trafficking, unplanned pregnancies, and health problems, especially during menstruation or pregnancy.
There are many women who are climate warriors- some are well-known and others are silent heroes. Although many of them lack information and education and face bullying, discrimination, and violence, support from society is one of the most important factors in their success. Society has been supporting them by giving them access to education, information, freedom of speech, equal rights, and most importantly, by respecting their ideas and decisions.
So if you are reading this, seek women who need your support. Give them the same opportunities that you have had. Let them know they are strong and you are there for them, so they don’t feel alone.
At the end of the day, women’s futures are our futures. When they have a safe, happy and healthy future, they will save the world around them. As Raya said, whatever happens, women will not run away. As true born loving leaders, they will stay to protect their loved ones, to protect all of us.
Happy International Women’s Day!