Women of influence get results on Capitol Hill

By Anna Kramer
Sisters on the Planet Ambassadors (l-r) Mary Wilson, Sharon Hanshaw, Lt. Gov. Barbara Lawton, Elizabeth Becker, Rev. Dr. Miriam Burnett, Rachel Larson.

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Inspired by the efforts of the women profiled in the Sisters on the Planet films, eight of Oxfam's Sisters on the Planet Ambassadors gathered for the first time in Washington, DC in early March. There, these American women leaders met with 25 US senators and representatives, calling for the US to commit to providing financial and other assistance to help poor and vulnerable people survive the climate crisis.

The ambassadors' message: Worldwide, it's women who often bear the brunt of the effects of climate change, including more frequent and severe floods, droughts, and hurricanes. The US must invest now in adaptation projects, like elevated flood-proof houses and drought-resistant seeds, to help women and families build their resilience to these new and heightened risks.

"It's important to talk about the cost-effective nature of investing in the world's most vulnerable populations, both for their stability and for global security," said Sisters on the Planet Ambassador the Hon. Barbara Lawton, lieutenant governor of Wisconsin. "Whether it's women and families in the US, in Sudan, or in the Arctic Circle... our destinies are linked."

A diverse group

Joining Lawton on the Congressional visits were Linda Adams, secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency; Elizabeth Becker, journalist and author; Rev. Dr. Miriam Burnett, president of the Resource and Promotion of Health Alliance, Inc.; Dr. Kristie Ebi, human health author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; Rachel Larson, executive director of Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility; Sharon Hanshaw, executive director of Coastal Women for Change; and Mary Wilson, president of the League of Women Voters.

Oxfam's Judith Brackley, a member of the event planning team, said the participants reflect a diverse group of more than 25 Sisters on the Planet Ambassadors, including business leaders, artists, university presidents, and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate. (Read a full list of Sisters on the Planet ambassadors.)

"Though they come from different backgrounds, these are all women of influence, who can speak on behalf of women around the world—many of whom have no voice or access to seats of power," said Brackley.

Finding common ground

As a result of the ambassadors' visits, 10 members of Congress agreed to sponsor an upcoming bipartisan Congressional resolution on women and climate change. Others pledged to support international adaptation funding in future US climate legislation.

The ambassadors particularly targeted their efforts to women leaders. Representative Anna Eshoo, Democrat of California, joined them for a question and answer session over dinner, while Representative Doris O. Matsui, Democrat of California, signed on as the newest Sisters on the Planet Ambassador.

Brackley said the ambassadors will play an ongoing role as spokeswomen for Oxfam's climate change campaign. Many came away from the event with new connections to one another and new ideas for spreading the word among constituents.

Burnett, a physician and minister, talked about Sisters on the Planet the following Sunday morning—International Women's Day—on her satellite radio talk show targeting the African-American community.

"When I look at climate change and poverty—all the things Sisters on the Planet talks about—I've seen that in the work I've been doing here in the US. When I see the droughts that are occurring where they use trickle irrigation, and I turn around and look at drought in farmland in middle Georgia, I see common ground," Burnett said.

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