Where are the effects of climate change felt the strongest?
West Africa shoulders some of the heaviest impacts created by climate change, particularly in communities where families live off the land. Many communities in Sub-Saharan Africa have laid claim to lush, verdant farmlands for hundreds or thousands of years—but today, those families find themselves fighting against the very land they’ve called home for generations.
Between desert encroachment, deforestation, and the effects of a rising global temperature, rural populations in Senegal experience some of the worst effects of climate change. Farming families struggle to cope with a shorter growing season, while communities across the continent suffer from a shortage of clean water, food, and fuel.
Superheroes no longer wear capes: they wear gym shoes.
A few days before we spoke on the phone, Gina Luster represented Flint Rising at an activist event in San Francisco. A red-eye flight took her to Grand Rapids, Michigan, then to her home in Flint at 7:30 in the morning. Next, Gina drove to Detroit for a panel appearance at the NAACP’s annual conference. She arrived in the city exhausted and ready for a shower before our interview, only to find out she couldn’t check into her hotel.
Gina took my call from the hotel parking lot, sitting under a tree next to the Detroit River. Despite the insanity of her schedule and the flickering cell phone signal, her attitude was overwhelmingly positive.
In the early 1980s, armed government forces massacred hundred of members of the Maya Achi communities near the Rio Negro highlands of Guatemala. When the Maya Achi resisted eviction from their ancestral homes, the armed forces began a destructive campaign that spanned five massacres and ten communities, killing 441 women, children, and men. Ultimately, around 3,500 people were displaced from their homes, tortured, assaulted, or left without food or livelihood. Recent studies place the number of affected individuals around 11,000.
Why? To make room for a hydroelectric dam on the Chixoy River.
Editor’s Note: Fern Shepard is the first participant in our new interview series: “Feminist Giving IRL” (in real life).
“Feminist Giving IRL” features leaders in philanthropy and the nonprofit realm who are outstanding advocates for gender equity. Our first featured leader, Fern Shepard, is President of Rachel’s Network, a non-profit organization named after Rachel Carson that empowers women funders in environmental protection.
What do you wish you had known when you started out in your profession?
I began my career 30 years ago as an environmental lawyer with Earthjustice, where I quickly learned the importance of strong laws in protecting vulnerable populations. Courts are where powerless people and voiceless wildlife and wildlands can be protected from harm. Yet our environmental problems have only grown in complexity and severity since I started.
What would you do if you woke up one morning to find that your home had been cut off from all clean water?
In the United States, the first instinct would be to call your water company, or buy a flat of bottled water — but in societies around the world relying on freshwater rivers for their families’ survival and livelihood, access to clean water is being threatened in new and frightening ways every day.
According to International Rivers, roughly two-thirds of the world’s rivers have been negatively impacted by the 50,000 or so dams that have been built in the last 100 years, funded by supporters of water privatization. Because of this, once-great waterways like the Indus, the Colorado, and the Yellow Rivers no longer reach the sea, and the areas that once thrived on the mix of salt and fresh water can no longer support the diverse communities of life, human and otherwise, that formerly called these deltas home.
Teen girls are becoming movers and shakers across the globe in areas like gun violence, environmental activism, and gender equality, as well as advocacy for inclusiveness and systems change of all kinds.
And rather than simply accepting the hands they’ve been dealt, teen girls and young women are taking the lead to change their lives and the lives of those around them. A Swedish teen activist, Greta Thunberg, has recently made waves and garnered well-deserved media attention for her work around climate change. She has protested outside of the Swedish parliament and has spoken about the need to protect the environment for future generations at Davos and the United Nations. Thunberg has also inspired others her age, mobilizing school-based climate change protests in Sweden and worldwide. She was recently nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, and stands to be the youngest recipient since Malala Yousafzai if she wins.
This week, Rachel’s Network launched the Catalyst Award as a new way to build women’s leadership in environmental work. The awards will recognize as many as five women of color who are making a significant impact on environmental issues in communities across the United States.
Each award winner will receive $10,000 as well as networking and mentorship support throughout the year.
Rachel’s Network works at the intersection of gender equality and environmentalism, providing $1.7 million in collective funding grants since its founding aimed at addressing both climate change and women’s rights. Rachel’s Network received the Bridge Builders Award for Network and Collaborative Giving Leadership from Philanthropy Women in January of 2019 for its exceptional work in growing gender equality movements intersectionally with environmental work.
This award is particularly noteworthy for its integration of both race and gender issues in addressing diversity in environmental work. In addition, the award creators are widening the lens on what it means to make an impact on environmental work by inviting women from the arts, agriculture, law, journalism, education, and faith communities to apply for the awards.
“We want this award to be the connective tissue between the wide landscape of existing fellowships for emerging leaders of color and executive leadership,” said Fern Shepard, President of Rachel’s Network, in a press release announcing the new awards. “We hope our investment catalyzes not only individual women’s career trajectories, but the environmental movement as a whole in becoming more representative and just.”
An article in the November 2017 issue of Geographical, a print publication out of the UK, does an exceptional job of summarizing the current research on gender equality globally. Geographical came to my attention after having the opportunity to talk with staff at Oxfam Great Britain (Oxfam GB), in order to learn more about the way Oxfam has approached integrating gender and development for the past two and a half decades.
The article points to research showing that making gains in gender equality could add as much as $12 trillion to the economy, but also quotes some experts who are dubious about using economic arguments for achieving political gains for women. Dr. Torrun Wimpelmann says that it’s unproductive to argue with social conservatives using this economic data. Another expert, Dr. Jeni Klugman, author of a high level UN report called Leave No-One Behind, says there is room for the economic argument, since it comes at the issue pragmatically.
Nikki van der Gaag, Director of Women’s Rights and Gender Justice at Oxfam GB, is interviewed extensively in the article, and talks about ways that gender can be addressed better by both the business and development worlds. “It’s striking how much the business sector is making the arguments around the case for gender equality and diversity.” But the key point for van der Gaag is that the corporate structures still need to change — supply chains need to be more gender equal, and advocating for women can’t be a sidebar of the company, but needs to be part of the core business plan.
That is where the real challenge comes in, particularly in a world where some data suggests that serious backsliding is occurring for women. “The World Economic Forum’s 2016 Gender Gap Report concluded that gender equality has now settled back to 2008 levels,” says the article. So in 2016, according to the Gender Gap Report, we were back to 2008 in terms of gender equality gains. Essentially, we’ve already lost a decade. How much further will Trump and other social conservatives take us back in time?
The newest issue of Gender & Development is taking a close look at the connections between gender equality and environmental work in today’s world, a world where President Trump has the power to reduce the size of public monuments in Utah by millions of acres, a potentially illegal move that has huge implications for gender justice. Certainly, now is the time for feminist and environmentalists to come together and strategize about how to fight back.
In a post introducing the new issue of Gender & Development, Editor Caroline Sweetman reminds us that 2017 has been the deadliest on record for environmental activists. Further, in many countries around the world, women are on the losing end of deals made to extract natural resources from developing nations.
It’s important to keep making the connections between gender justice and climate change for several reasons. First, it integrates the natural world into the equation when talking about how to equalize power and maintain the planet for everyone. Second, the approach calls into account the powerful corporate forces that are influencing the equation, and how they need to be held accountable both for addressing gender equality and for their role in impacting climate change.
I believe feminist philanthropy has a critical role to play in funding ecofeminism — continuing the work that began over 30 years ago when women leaders started to call attention to the parallels of environmental destruction and other forms of human domination and exploitation. I believe as we approach critical mass for women in both government and business, we will see more forward movement for the ecofeminist agendas. However, that forward movement is going to need significant funding from progressive leaders who understand the connections between environmental and gender justice.
Editor’s Note: It gives me great pleasure to welcome Allison Fine to Philanthropy Women as a guest contributor. Allison is the author of multiple books including Momentum: Igniting Social Change in the Connected Age and The Networked Nonprofit. A former Senior Fellow at Demos, Allison specializes in the intersections of online activism and democracy-building.
Exactly a year ago, millions of women across the country created the Resistance. We have marched and protested, shared our outrage using hashtags such as #metoo, #yessallwomen #nastywomen and called (and called and called) Congress. Now it’s time to shift from powering the Resistance to creating the Renaissance. However, there is one huge barrier, the “final frontier” as philanthropist Ruth Ann Harnisch calls it: our discomfort with money and power.
According to one study, more women are giving to more causes than ever before. However, the amount of money women are giving hasn’t gone up correspondingly. Here is the key point, “Men may represent a smaller slice of the donor pool, but they have made up for it by giving more money, keeping their impact and influence similar to what it was in 1990.”
Even though many women are wealthier than ever, we have yet to connect the dots between money, influence and power.
So, how do we shift to funding the Renaissance?
First, we have to put our name on things. Frankly, no one really needs to have their name on a building; however, we do need to put our names on important issues and causes and campaigns. Pick a critically important issue for rebuilding our democracy, and there are plenty of them, say immigration or anti-gerrymandering or climate change, and then tell the world you are funding it at a significant level. Step out into the spotlight and say, “This is where my $10,000 is going.” Be proud of your contribution. Your pride will be contagious and other women will do the same.
The second thing we need to do is to get comfortable asking for money. Even if you can’t write a big check, it is likely that there are people in your social networks who can. Now, don’t get into the habit of asking for money from everyone all the time because people will begin to cross the street to get away from you. But you need to get comfortable with the sentence, “Can you write a check for $10,000?” And that’s just for starters, eventually it has to be $100,000. Then $1,000,000 has to become part of your vocabulary. That’s what those seats around the board table are reserved for – not for the nice people or the smart people, women have always been those people, but for the people who can write, or get, million dollar checks.
And finally, we have to create our own systems if we can’t get equitable access to existing ones. There are powerful women in Hollywood and even a few women in the C suite here and there, but they work within a system created by and maintained by men. We need women-owned studios and banks and venture capital firms. We have women’s foundations, but they are far too small to have a big impact. We need more women to contribute to these funds or pool their money as parts of giving circles in order to magnify the impact of their giving.
The revitalization of our country will be led this time by founding mothers, but only when we embrace our own power and leverage our wealth and connections to create a more equitable society.