What Earth Day Means to Women Facing Violence Around the World

From planting to protesting, women are at the frontlines of the fight against food insecurity and climate change.

On one level, it’s absurd thinking about the idea of an Earth Day; it would be tantamount to having a Breathe Day. But because we have become so separated from the source, because we have turned the earth into a thing to be extracted, mined, plundered, tamed and owned, Earth Day has become a critical day to remember, to cherish and to honor the beauty of the earth—a day to commit ourselves to protecting her as if all our lives depend on it.

Across the planet this season, thousands of grassroots actions for revival, restoration and transformation are taking place as part of the One Billion Rising campaign. Activists are making the connection between violence against women and destruction of the earth. From planting to protesting, women are at the frontlines, amplifying the issues of women’s inequality and its impact on food insecurity, land ownership and the lack of access to health care, as well as the long term effects from extractive industries, especially for frontline and marginalized communities. 

Many are participating in Rising Gardens, a mass action through which women are planting community gardens. Gardening centralizes growing and giving; it is not about taking or acquiring. Maintaining a garden is an act of resistance because it does the opposite of what the capitalist machinery does—it connects people and communities with the Earth. To grow one’s own food, to grow beauty and life, is revolutionary in this age of ecological, environmental, societal, spiritual collapse. To put our energies, our creativity, our hearts into everything that can grow and sustain all forms of life when the current world order is bent on destruction is a radical political act.  

This Earth Week, I send my love to women across generations who are everywhere front and center, the heart and spirit and brains of every major movement in this world. Their work is moving us towards justice, equality, an end to violence against women, white supremacy, imperialism and morbid capitalism. Women who not only write and protest, strategize and organize, but dance and laugh and find joy in the midst of the impossible. 

Here are four such women, leading the way with creativity, drive and grit within the One Billion Rising movement:

Sabita Mahato and Sruti Rawat, South Asian activists

What Earth Day Means to Women Facing Violence Around the World
“Being a girl, my safety is important for me. If we are safe on cycle, if we can claim our own space on the roads, nothing can stop us from achieving our dreams,” said Sabita Mahato, pictured with fellow rider Shruti Rawat. (Courtesy)

Activists and cyclists Sabita Mahato and Shruti Rawat are riding across India to protest patriarchy, gender-based violence and climate catastrophe. Their cycling journey—through the campaign #RidetoRise—will take place on the Trans Himalaya expedition, covering 3,541 miles of the region in India and Nepal, where they will visit Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Nepal, West Bengal, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh with their message.

After experiencing discrimination and facing limiting gendered stereotypes at a young age, Sabita decided to show her father that “a woman can do all things.” She aims to ride across the Trans Himalaya expedition in 90 days with Shruti.

Choosing to cycle was deliberate: It showcases what is possible when one reduces her carbon footprint. With rising global temperatures, the Himalayas are one of the world’s most sensitive hotspots to climate change. As a result of unchecked and continued exploitation, the mountains are melting and there is an adverse impact on food, water and animals.

Sabita who pedals for women’s safety says, “Being a girl, my safety is important for me. If we are safe on cycle, if we can claim our own space on the roads, nothing can stop us from achieving our dreams.”


Mily Treviño-Sauceda, executive director and co-founder of Alianza Nacional de Campesinas, U.S. activist

What Earth Day Means to Women Facing Violence Around the World
Mily Treviño-Sauceda, co-founder and executive director of Alianza Nacional de Campesinas, leads farmworkers in demanding safety and dignity in their places of work. (Courtesy)

As the co-founder and executive director of Alianza Nacional de Campesinas, a national collective of female farmworkers and their families across the United States, Milly is known as the founder of the farmworker women’s movement in the U.S. 

Since the late ’80s, Milly has led essential farmworkers in demanding safety and dignity in their places of work.

“Although we have the knowledge of how to work the land for human sustainability, we do not own the land that we work,” she said, “and most often do not own land generally, which puts us at a disadvantage in a society where land ownership equals power, access and security.”

As climate disasters escalate, Alianza continues its trailblazing work for better working and living conditions for all farmworkers, organizing to end pesticide usage in the fields, demanding rights as immigrants and essential workers, and for an end to gender-based violence in the fields and at home. 

While campesinas harvest food all day, many are food insecure. To address this gap Alianza members are engaged inefforts to gain access to unused lands in order to turn them into community gardens. In the interim, women are turning their backyard gardens into a network of community support, sharing their crops, fruits, vegetables, herbs and plants, as well as information on the medicinal value of certain plants and herbs. 


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Lucinda Evans, One Billion Rising South Africa coordinator 

What Earth Day Means to Women Facing Violence Around the World
Lucinda Evans organized the Flatten the Curve of Hunger initiative, which served 5,000 meals a day, with 90 percent of the beneficiaries being women and children. (Courtesy)

Lucinda Evans is a Khoisan woman from Lavender Hill in the Western Cape of South Africa. A 30-year activist working on gender-based violence prevention and child protection, this year she organized the Flatten the Curve of Hunger initiative, which served 5,000 meals a day, with 90 percent of the beneficiaries being women and children.

Sixty-six days after lockdown was enforced in South Africa, no local or national food security programs were implemented. Lucinda took out a mortgage loan on her family home to create, with her team, 25 kitchens to ensure that women, elderly, and children would have access to food. Her organization, Philisa Abafazi Bethu, also partnered with the Delft community to create a garden, educating the surrounding community about how one can combat hunger and simultaneously reconnect with Mother Earth.

In addition, the center has started a eight-week community garden training in partnership with Soil for Life, a Cape Town-based nonprofit that teaches people how to grow healthy food and aims to create a world where everyone is growing some of their food using environmentally sustainable methods of food production. As schools have closed down, Philisa Abafazi Bethu has also opened an after-school program to welcome children back in addition to other community programs.

As the infection rate of COVID-19 has tripled in South Africa, Lucinda has been doing medicine runs, collecting immune boosters and delivering supplies to gardens to match the needs of the community. In addition to helping feed her community, Lucinda is rising against the unjust laws around handling rape and violence against women in South Africa, which gives more rights to the perpetrators of rape versus the survivors.

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About

V (formerly Eve Ensler) is a Tony Award-winning playwright, activist, performer and author of the Obie award-winning theatrical phenomenon The Vagina Monologues, published in over 48 languages, performed in over 140 countries, and was recently heralded by The New York Times as one of the most important plays of the past 25 years.