Why Female Leadership is What the Climate Justice Movement Needs

“The climate movement cannot succeed without an urgent upsurge in women’s leadership across the Global South and the Global North. Women and girls are already boldly leading on climate justice, addressing the climate crisis in ways that heal, rather than deepen, systemic injustices.”

These are the words that begin the Connected Women Leaders’ (CWL) Declaration on Climate Justice, unveiled in the context of the High-Level Meetings on the Sustainable Development Goals, an eight-day political forum by the United Nations, culminating Friday. One of the forum’s primary goals is to coordinate urgent climate change action.

While declarations and calls to action aren’t new for the United Nations, not many of them are as specific and blunt in demanding dramatic shifts in power structures like this one, which calls for female representation in the climate justice movement to “grow in number and build power.”

The need for women’s leadership is ever more pressing when it comes to the climate crisis. (Matthew Kirby / Creative Commons)

As a feminist and gender expert, I was thrilled to be among the early signatories of this declaration because I deeply believe that women deserve to be equally represented in leadership positions across all sectors and countries and that doing so is in society’s best interest.

From a human rights’ perspective, women represent half of the world’s population and deserve to be represented equally at any table where decisions are made, as their perspectives and lived and experiences need to be taken into consideration. Gender blindness doesn’t only undermine women, but the effectiveness of policies overall, including environmental ones.

Strategically, it’s profoundly misguided to think that we can solve the world’s most pressing problems without engaging half of its human resources. 

There’s more: Women aren’t only half of the world’s brain trust—when it comes to policy-making, they have often proven to be “the better half,” as multiple studies indicate female policy-makers are better at working in a bipartisan way and collaborating across the aisle to drive change; they are more sensitive to community needs; and, according the World Economic Forum, female leaders more effectively advance a populations’ overall health.

The need for women’s leadership is ever more pressing when it comes to the climate crisis.

Not only are female leaders better-equipped than their male counterparts to handle this issue: New research has shown that women and girls are disproportionately affected by climate change and bear the greatest burden. “Women represent the majority of the world’s poor and are more dependent for their livelihood on natural resources that are threatened by climate change. Furthermore, they face social, economic and political barriers that limit their coping capacity,” according to the United Nations.

In this context, it’s key that women and girls be at the forefront of the negotiations on climate change, as they know better than anyone else the urgency of the crisis we’re living and its devastating consequences. 

In addition to knowing the deepest truths of the impact of climate chance, women and girls hold the solution to the climate crisis. According to projections by Project Drawdown, achieving universal education in low- and middle-income countries and ensuring girls in those countries stay in school “could result in 51.48 gigatons of emissions reduced by 2050. The return on that investment is incalculable.”

From Bella Abzug to Greta Thunberg, women and girls are and have always been at the forefront of the climate justice movement, applying solutions and demanding accountability.

It’s time that more of them to step up, connect with one another and be recognized as the leaders that this movement needs—because the leadership that women and girls exercise when they are connected is more than inspiring: It’s revolutionary. And that’s exactly the kind of leadership we need to address the climate crisis. 

The CWL’s declaration and mission are especially relevant in light of this year’s forum theme: “Empowering people and ensuring inclusiveness and equality.” Among the declaration’s signatories are some of the most incredible and fearless thought leaders on women’s leadership and climate justice of our time, like Mary Robison, Katharine Wilkinson, Pat Mitchell, Musimbi Kanyoro and many others.

(Left to right) Environmental activist Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim; CWL Forum co-convener Pat Mitchell; Mary Robinson, president of the Mary Robinson Foundation and former president of Ireland; climate activist Sarra Tekola; Dr. Katharine Wilkinson, Project Drawdown; CWL Forum co-convener Ronda Carnegie; NRDC Publications Director Mary Annaïse Heglar; and Doc Society Director Jess Search. (Pat Mitchell)

Last June, over 8,000 delegates attended the Women Deliver Conference in Vancouver and heard Katja Iversen’s encouragement to use “our individual power, our power over systems and our power as part of a movement” to support women and girls. 

Use your power: Join me in signing this declaration and ask women and girls take the lead of the climate justice movement.

About

Lucina Di-Meco is a Global Fellow for at the Global Women's Leadership Initiative at the Wilson Center and Director of Girls' Education at Room to Read, a global nonprofit that supports kids in Africa and Asia through programs enhancing literacy and gender equality in education. In 2016, she authored the paper “Women’s Political Networks: Defining Leadership, Breaking Barriers and Fostering Change.”