Why Women? Why Now? Gender and Our Environmental Crisis

Fires are raging. Sea levels are rising. While the scale of the climate crisis has grown, so has the band of passionate grassroots leaders hard at work to turn things around.

More often than not, those leaders are women.

A moment of victory for the Dakota Access Pipeline Resistance. (Brian Nevins)

Women around the world play a pivotal role in organizing resistance to environmental injustice and destruction. 

Doria Robinson, from Richmond, California, grew up five blocks from the Chevron Richmond Refinery, in a community that suffered from high rates of cancer, asthma and other diseases. She also held Chevron accountable when the corporation violated air quality compliance standards and continually exacerbated the climate crisis through their burning of fossil fuels, and after the refinery exploded in 2012 and exposed thousands of residents to toxic fumes, Doria joined the Mayor of Richmond in calling on leaders from cities around the world to exchange solutions on how to protect their communities. Doria’s organization, Urban Tilth, also promotes climate resiliency through permaculture, urban farming and education.

Doria’s story showcases how one community’s solutions can be scaled up, and how women can help lead the way—but women leaders like her face an uphill battle to claim their own seat at the table.

Many women don’t have a say in the policies that impact their lives or access to adequate resources. According to a 2017 report in Forbes, a minuscule 0.2 percent of philanthropic funds are channeled to women-led environmental solutions. This cultural and systemic under-investment in women on the frontlines stymies their efforts to move efficiently and scale their successful solutions.

And in their fight for clean water, food security and breathable air, women risk everything—putting their freedom, safety and lives on the line to take on people and companies with far more money and power. Too often, they are jailed, beaten, raped or otherwise end up disappearing after forming a frontline. 

That is why the Sierra Club and Women’s Earth Alliance launched an Accelerator program to give women activists working a range of environmental challenges a catalytic boost.

Sierra Club campaign leaders pose with Bernadette Demientieff, a leader in defending her homelands in the Arctic from fossil fuel destruction.

We know that women, and women of color in particular, are underrepresented and seldom acknowledged for their work in this field, despite being disproportionately affected by climate change and injustice and disproportionately likely to be engaged in mitigating it.

For decades, our organizations have worked alongside women leaders fighting to elevate their knowledge and grassroots solutions, and we’ve heard them carve out the same, consistent set of needs. Women need increased capacity, better paths for knowledge and information sharing, more funding, improved tools for advocacy and more robust alliances to fight climate change.

Our action-oriented Accelerator will convene a powerful group of women leaders who are out front fiercely protecting our water, air and land. By investing in women leaders to scale solutions for change, we aim to center women’s leadership so we can protect the environment, our world’s women and children and the future for all. (Nominations and applications are open, and leaders are encouraged to apply here.)

The truth is that, from Alaska to Louisiana to Standing Rock, women are leading on climate adaptation. They’re piloting community clean energy programs and sustainable disaster response efforts and taking the lead to adapt to our rapidly-changing world.  They are filling the role of community leaders all while managing to feed and find shelter for their own families in the aftermath of severe storms.

Many grassroots women environmental champions may not be well known yet, but they are making history. Climate change is the world’s problem, but women are taking the lead to solve it. 

About , and

A. Tianna Scozzaro is the Director of the Sierra Club’s Gender, Equity & Environment Program, where she works to ensure climate and environment policies support women and LGBTQ communities. Previously, she worked on the UN Sustainable Development Goals, conducted research about women's environmental stewardship in Congress and served as a public policy fellow for the U.S. House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming.  She holds an MPA in Environmental Science and Policy from Columbia and an undergraduate degree from UC Davis.
Melinda Kramer is the co-founder of the Women's Earth Alliance and also co-founded and grew the Global Women’s Water Initiative, equipping grassroots women with training and expertise. Melinda is a trained facilitator, an avid hiker, and a lover of languages, speaking passable Spanish along with some Swahili and Mandarin.
Amira is the Co-Founder of Women's Earth Alliance and has spent decades working for community health, environmental and food justice, LGBTQ and women’s rights, directing organizations like Julia Butterfly Hill’s Circle of Life and Democracy Matters. She graduated from Colgate University with a degree in Women’s Studies, studied Women and Development at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica and attended Starr King School for the Ministry in Berkeley.