Women are taking matters into their own hands in the face of climate events.
Climate change is exposing the inequalities of the world. As extreme weather events are causing famine, conflict, and insecurity, marginalized communities are suffering the most.
Women especially have found themselves disproportionately experiencing the impacts of climate change, with little to no support from the highest-emitting countries that are intensifying global warming.
In response, women across the world have come up with innovative ways to take action to protect their homes, their communities, and their livelihoods. While it should not be their responsibility to manage the climate issues created by high-emitting countries, the following three women in particular have shown outstanding commitment and ingenuity in the face of climate disaster.
Like many who live along the Tonle Sap lake in Cambodia, Rath Chhay and her husband relied on fishing for their livelihoods. After an unprecedent three-year drop in rainfall, the lake’s water levels diminished, causing the fish population to dwindle. With five kids to support, Rath knew that she would have to find another way to provide for her family, but there were few job opportunities available. So, she created her own.
Using the knowledge her mother passed down to her, Rath started a handcrafting business. For the past two years, she’s made goods such as handbags and place mats by harvesting stalks of water hyacinth. This invasive plant thrives in warming waters and makes it difficult for fish and water to flow freely when issues like climate change reduce the water levels in a lake or a stream.
Oxfam partner Fisheries Action Coalition Team connects Rath and other entrepreneurs and artists like her with clients who want to buy their goods. Now, because of her resourcefulness, she has created stability in the wake of uncertainty, stating she can now “buy rice, drinking water, vegetables, and ... pay for electricity.”
Rath has also found financial independence. “I feel better, and I don’t have to only rely on my husband’s income. I can make my own.” While the impacts of climate change forced Rath and her family into a tough situation, she fought back and created a steady business that helps reduce an invasive plant species and sets an example of what the women in her community have the power to accomplish.
Ada Ramona Miranda
With climate change warming the oceans, the threat of hurricanes has grown, and with it the threat to women’s safety in Puerto Rico. When hurricanes cause electricity blackouts, violence against women and girls increases. In response, the local women’s center in Adjuntas, Puerto Rico started a solar panel building workshop. Once registration opened, Ada Ramona Miranda was quick to sign up.
Since taking the course, Ada has spent the past two years installing solar panels on houses across her community, fighting corporate greed and traditional gender roles as she goes. “Every time I come here and see this group of women together who do not see each other as competition, who help each other and who are making progress, it makes me very happy.”
It hasn’t been easy though. With many men leaving in search of better jobs and energy companies caring more about corporate profits than helping the people they serve, Ada and many other women in Adjuntas are left to support the community on their own. As climate events get worse and more frequent, so will the blackouts and the safety of the residents. Despite the lack of support, Ada is determined to continue to install solar panels that increase the stability of her community’s energy resources in the midst of climate change.
“We still have a long way to go,” she says, “it is ... difficult, but not impossible.”
Sister Joan Brown
As the executive director of New Mexico Interfaith Power and Light, an organization focused on climate justice in 40 states, Sister Joan Brown works tirelessly to advocate for sustainable practices that promote energy efficiency, renewable energy, and local food sourcing for her community. Like most New Mexico residents, she has experienced first-hand what the state is up against as the climate changes. Severe droughts have decreased access to drinking water, and large wildfires have increased health and housing issues. Yet, as its residents continue to suffer, New Mexico remains the second largest oil- and gas-producing state in the US.
In response, Brown works with local organizations to demand methane restrictions on the state and federal levels. Her work has led to the passing of the Energy Transition Act, which set a state-wide renewable energy standard for utility companies in New Mexico. She also fights leasing issues, pollution problems, and demands accountability for fossil fuel regulations in the state.
While this work can be daunting, Brown’s love for her community keeps her inspired. “Love is the basis of all work and life,” she says. “More and more I know deeply the reality that we are ONE and ... our being here at this moment is a gift and responsibility.”
Beyond fighting for legislative support, she connects directly with community members facing climate crises. When wildfires occur, she helps feed and shelter people who are affected by them. To expand climate awareness, she teaches people how to grow local food, how to compost, and how to harvest water. As one of Oxfam's Sisters on the Planet Ambassadors, she works to empower women and girls throughout her community. She also hosts retreats multiple times a year to inspire and educate people on the importance of climate advocacy. No matter what she does, her work is always rooted in the belief that people and the planet deserve support, justice, and love.
All three of these women are battling the destructive impacts of climate change, but they shouldn't have to do it alone. Countries with high levels of emissions--including the US--should do more to support them.
On this International Women’s Day, we are sending a letter to Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry that demands the US support women across the world as they deal with the harsh consequences of climate change.