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World Environment Day: Celebrating the Women of the Environmental Movement

June 5 is World Environment Day, an international moment to celebrate the changemakers who strive to protect our planet and its inhabitants. Their work spans advocacy, education, and academic studies to conservation efforts and sustainable business practices.

As the climate crisis worsens, this work grows increasingly important. We know that climate change exacerbates existing inequalities, acting as a “threat multiplier” that aggravates gender-based violence while simultaneously curtailing the availability and effectiveness of protection mechanisms. Child marriage, sexual violence, and sexual and labor exploitation all rise in the wake of climate disasters and environmental breakdown, and displacement creates greater barriers to reporting violations and accessing essential services. 

However, while often disproportionately impacted by climate change, women are also a critical part of the solution. Empowering women and girls creates ripple effects within families, communities, and countries. Improving access to education, family planning, and financial inclusion correspond to better resource governance, conservation management, and adaptation to climate disruption. Gender equality matters on a societal level too. Countries with high representation of women in parliament are more prone to ratify international environmental treaties.

Our Global Executive Director, S. Mona Sinha, is proud to belong to Project Dandelion, a movement to celebrate and unite climate justice solutions led by women. Dreamed of by the Hon. Mary Robinson and founders Hafsat Abiola-Costello, Ronda Carnegie, and Pat Mitchell, Project Dandelion brings together a powerful group of change-makers from around the world.

To mark World Environment Day, here are a few of the inspirational women leading the environmental movement.

Amina Bin-Taleb (1995-) – Yemen

Amina developed the Plastic Bricks Project, which uses plastic bricks, a product that combines recycled plastic and cement, to replace traditional bricks. These new bricks have helped combat the growing waste problem and aid in rebuilding efforts in Yemen. She was part of the United Nations Development Programme Youth Leadership Programme in 2020. Currently, she works as a Program Manager for Arab Youth Sustainable Development Network.

Berta Isabel Cáceres Flores (1973-2016) – Honduras

Berta was an Indigenous activist who fought for the Lenca people in Honduras. She fought against illegal logging and the Agua Zarca Dam project, which was partially led by Desarrollos Energéticos SA (DESA) and would have cut off the Lenca people’s water supply. She co-founded the National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras in 1993 and received the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2015. In 2016, she was murdered by gunmen hired by DESA’s executives. 

Isatou Ceesay (1972-) – The Gambia

Isatou, known as the “Queen of Recycling” in The Gambia, founded the non-profit Njau Recycling and Income Generation Group (NRIGG). This community initiative trains women in recycling; the participants collect and sort materials and reuse them to create items like woven bags and rubber necklaces. NRIGG has since spread to four villages. The income from the recycled materials helps support women and has funded a community vegetable garden.

“My entrepreneurship spirit has since helped to empower many women through providing them with the means and support to generate an income, now they’re able to care for their families.”

Isatou Ceesay
Photo: @elladaish

Ella Daish (1992-) – United Kingdom

Ella is an activist and the founder of the #EndPeriodPlastic campaign. She continues to raise awareness about the amount of plastic used in menstrual products and created a petition, asking manufacturers to stop using plastic. As a result, several corporations, including Sainsbury’s and Aldi, removed plastic from their menstrual products, and others introduced new, eco-friendly products.

Sylvia Earle (1935-) – United States

Sylvia, known as the “Sturgeon General” and sometimes called “Her Deepness,” is a marine biologist and oceanographer. She holds the record for the lowest depth anyone has walked untethered on the seafloor. In addition to having hundreds of publications to her name and lecturing in dozens of countries, she helped design research submarines and became the first female Chief Scientist of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. She continues to advocate for oceans and marine life through her organization, Mission Blue.

Maria Kolesnikova (1988-) – Kyrgyzstan

Maria is the director of the Kyrgyz MoveGreen movement, a youth environmental organization focused on awareness and activism. Through the organization, she helped develop an app that reports on air quality and placed sensors in schools throughout Bishkek so teachers can better judge when it’s safe to open windows. United Nations Environment Programme named Maria a Champion of the Earth for Entrepreneurial Vision in 2021. 

“Someone has to take responsibility for the future. Why shouldn’t it be me?”

Maria Kolesnikova

Winona LaDuke (1959-) – United States

Winona is an Indigenous activist, author, and economist specializing in rural economic development. She created the Indigenous Women’s Network and the White Earth Land Recovery Project, both of which strive to recover Indigenous lands and resources. Most recently, she developed Winona’s Hemp & Heritage Farm to support a women-led economy focusing on restorative agriculture. Her work earned her a place on the Forbes 50 Over 50 Women of Impact list. 

Wangarĩ Maathai (1940-2011) – Kenya

Wangarĩ founded the Green Belt Movement, an environmental organization that works with communities to protect the environment and support women’s livelihoods. Since its founding, the Movement has expanded from Kenya to other countries with a special focus on the Congo’s rainforests. She earned several awards over her lifetime, including the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. She was also named Goodwill Ambassador for the Congo Basin Forest Ecosystem.

Photo: Carlos Jaramillo

Yvonne “Von” Mahelona (1989-) – United States

Yvonne is a Hawai’i Native activist and grief counselor. She has worked tirelessly to preserve cultural and historical sites, including the volcano Mauna Kea. As a grief counselor, she helps people navigate life events like miscarriages and natural events like the Lāhainā fires. She also works alongside AF3IRM Hawai’i and has helped pass legislation identifying the crisis of missing and murdered Native Hawaiians, particularly women and girls. 

Shaimaa Omar (1990-) – Egypt

Shaimaa founded Biomix, a company transforming agricultural waste into energy and organic fertilizer. Since its founding, Biomix has expanded to 12 cities across Egypt and garnered support from the United Nations Development Programme.

Photo: @disharavii

Disha Ravi (1999-) – India

Disha is a young climate activist who co-founded the Indian branch of Fridays for Future. She was arrested in Feb. 2021 and accused of sedition after distributing a toolkit, originally shared by Greta Thunberg, to guide farmers in protesting new agricultural laws. Still, she continues to speak and write about the climate crisis. Last October, she spoke at the 28th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Ania Sauku (2003-) – Albania

Ania is an Albanian Youth Delegate to the United Nations and a former Albanian representative at the Benjamin Frankin Transatlantic Institute. Passionate about climate change and gender equality, she works to ensure youth voices are heard. She founded the TED-Ed club in her high school, which creates a safe space for students to discuss ongoing issues and possible solutions. She also leads climate marches and awareness campaigns.

“Climate crisis does not affect us all in the same way and often women are the most vulnerable to this crisis, especially women from marginalized communities such as women of ethnic minorities, women of color, women with disabilities, queer women, women living in poverty, and other women and girls at the intersection of multiple systems of oppression.”

Ania Sauku

Marina Silva (1958-) – Brazil

Marina founded Brazil’s Sustainability Network political party and is Brazil’s Minister of the Environment and Climate Change. She fights deforestation and advocates for the protection of the rainforest, earning her recognition and awards, including the Goldman Environmental Prize in 1996 and a spot on the Time’s 100 Most Influential People of 2024 list.

Vandana Shiva (1952-) – India

Vandana is an environmentalist and activist who founded Navdanya, an organization that conserves biodiversity and seeds, as part of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology, and Ecology (RFSTE). RFSTE – also founded by Vandana – helps develop sustainable methods of agriculture. Vandana is the author of several books, including “Stolen Harvest.” She is also the subject of the documentary “The Seeds of Vandana Shiva”. In 1993, she received the Right Livelihood Award.

Margaret Thomas Murie (1902-2003) – United States

Margaret, known as the “Grandmother of the Conservation Movement,” is a naturalist and conservationist. Throughout her life, she advocated for Alaska’s wilderness. Her work led to over 100 million acres of land being set aside for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1998.

Greta Thunberg (2003-) – Sweden

Greta is a young climate activist who led school strikes for climate change. She inspired similar youth movements around the world. She has spoken at the UN and with the Pope, and in 2019, she was named Time’s Person of the Year. Over the years, she’s written or has been the subject of books like “No One is Too Small to Make a Difference” and “The Climate Book.” The film “I Am Greta” and the short series “Greta Thunberg: A Year to Change the World” also document her life and achievements.

Gender equality is vital to addressing the climate crisis

Safeguarding our planet’s ecosystem requires a gender-responsive, human rights-based approach that tackles the root causes of women’s inequality and marginalization. Securing women’s rights isn’t just the right thing to do — its also the best way to build a resilient, inclusive, and livable future for everyone.

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