Wangari Maathai in Oslo

International Women's Day: inspirational environmentalists

To mark International Women's Day, we celebrate some of the extraordinary women who've championed climate and nature both globally and in their communities over the years.
  Published:  07 Mar 2022    |      Last updated:  06 Mar 2024    |      5 minute read

The world celebrates International Women's Day on 8 March – a day to mark the political, social, cultural and economic achievements of women. 

We're marking the day by highlighting the accomplishments of some of the world's most formidable female environmental activists. From defending rights to introducing vital laws, their work is truly inspirational for women and men everywhere.

1. Disha Ravi

My motivation to join climate activism came from seeing my grandparents, who are farmers, struggle with the effects of the climate crisis.

Disha Ravi

The young activist is the founder of the Indian branch of global youth climate movement, Fridays for Future network. In February 2021 she was arrested and charged with sedition and criminal conspiracy for protesting against new agricultural laws which farmers say are "anti-farmers laws" and will leave them at the mercy of big corporations. Ravi was later released following widespread condemnation of her arrest.

2. Berta Cáceres (d 2016)

The late Berta Cáceres pictured in the Honduran wilderness
Berta Cáceres, winner of the 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize, was murdered in 2016

There are many things I still want to do in this world but I have never once considered giving up fighting for our territory, for a life with dignity, because our fight is legitimate.

Berta Cáceres

Berta Cáceres was an indigenous, environmental and human rights activist who was murdered in her home on 3 March 2016. As an activist she was aware of the risks she faced and said publicly that she knew she was top of the army's list of wanted human rights fighters. But, she added, it would never put her off fighting for "our territory".

You might not know: Berta Cáceres rallied her fellow indigenous Lenca people of Honduras and waged a campaign that successfully pressured the world’s largest dam builder to pull out of the Agua Zarca Dam.

3. Bina Agarwal

Bina Agarwal at a Conference on Innovation in Indian Agriculture 2014
Bina Agarwal at a Conference on Innovation in Indian Agriculture 2014
Credit: IFPRI

I believe we want a world that is pro-poor, pro-development, and pro-environment.

Bina Agarwal

Indian economist, a leading thinker and advocate of women’s roles in land management and conservation since the 1980s, she has influenced governments, international agencies and others worldwide.

You might not know: In 2004-5, Agarwal led a successful campaign in India to secure equal rights for Hindu men and women to own and inherit property, including land, in the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act.

4. Helen Francis

Helen stands by a lake and marsh, smiling.

My journey started when I was travelling around the world and saw how beautiful our planet is.

Helen Francis

Helen Francis set up Rotherham Climate Action. The group has since successfully influenced mayor Dan Jarvis to declare a climate emergency for South Yorkshire, begun the campaign "Nature Recovery Rotherham" in partnership with Sheffield & Rotherham Wildlife Trust, and continues to work with Rotherham Council (RMBC) on its climate plan. 

You might not know: A big part of Helen's travelling journey was working on cruise ships, where she perfected her Flowrider skills (a surf simulator). She now features in their marketing and promotional materials, which she says is a great way to engage young people before moving on to the environmental conversation.

5. Gro Harlem Brundtland

It is simple, really. Human health and the health of ecosystems are inseparable.

Gro Harlem Brundtland

First female Prime Minister of Norway and chair of the World Commission on Environment and Development. Brundtland's definition of sustainable development, "meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs" was adopted by the UN, and the 1987 Brundtland Report led to international action on sustainable development.

You might not know: Brundtland was one of the main targets of the massacre on Utøya island in 2011, but had left the island shortly before Anders Behring Breivik arrived.

6. Wangari Maathai (d 2011)

Wangari Maathai in Oslo © Green Belt Movement
Wangari Maathai in Oslo
Credit: Green Belt Movement

It’s the little things citizens do. That’s what will make the difference. My little thing is planting trees.

Wangari Maathai

Kenyan activist and politician, renowned for using community-based tree planting to reduce poverty and conserve the environment, and for being the founder of the Green Belt Movement.

You might not know: When Maathai won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004, she was the first African woman and the first environmentalist to do so. The Green Belt Movement has now planted more than 51 million trees across Kenya.

7. Robyn Lovelock

Robyn stands by a river, holding a placard about climate change.

I've always been passionate about social justice but working in Uganda, where people were being driven from their farmland because it went from flood to drought every six weeks, was a defining moment for me.

Robyn Lovelock

Robyn is a member of Llangollen Friends of the Earth. During her time there, she’s launched three local food initiatives, increasing the availability and affordability of locally produced food within the Dee Valley. She’s led a 4-year project to make Llangollen town centre safer and more accessible for pedestrians and cyclists (raising £4 million). She’s also organised community webinars showcasing the efforts of local groups tackling the climate crisis through a social justice lens.

You might not know: Robyn thinks success in community action lies in engaging a wide range of people, sharing power and supporting people to take on new challenges.

8. Erin Brockovich

Erin Brockovich speaking at University of Sydney, 2012
Erin Brockovich speaking at University of Sydney, 2012
Credit: Eva Rinaldi

When women get together, they’re a pretty tough force to push back.

Erin Brockovich

American activist made famous by a 2000 film about her work on the legal case against Pacific Gas and Electric Company for water contamination. She continues to bring legal cases for environmental pollution and public health.

You might not know: Brockovich has also worked on cases related to women’s reproductive and pharmaceutical care.

9. Rachel Carson (d 1964)

Those who contemplate the beauty of the Earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.

Rachel Carson

American scientist and conservationist whose 1962 book Silent Spring on artificial pesticides is credited with sparking the environment movement. Her powerful style of writing attracted widespread media attention, inspiring people to take action across the world.

You might not know: Before writing Silent Spring Carson worked as a marine biologist and wrote bestselling books, articles and radio scripts about marine life.

10. Arundhati Roy

Arundhati Roy
Arundhati Roy
Credit: Jean-Baptiste-Paris/Flickr

Another world is not only possible, she's on the way and, on a quiet day, if you listen very carefully you can hear her breathe.

Arundhati Roy

Arundhati Roy is a novelist, writer and political activist on human rights and environmental issues. One of the spokespeople of the alter-globalisation movement she continues to be a target of the Indian government for her activities.

You might not know: Arundhati's novel The God of Small Things won the Booker Prize in 1997. She donated all the prize money as well as royalties from her books on the project to the campaign against the Narmada Dam.

11. Octavia Hill (d 1912)

Pastel drawing of Octavia Hill
Pastel drawing of Octavia Hill
Credit: National Trust Images

The need of quiet, the need of air, the need of exercise, the sight of sky and of things growing seem human needs, common to all.

Octavia Hill

English social reformer who co-founded the National Trust and saved iconic London green spaces such as Brockwell Park to improve the health and wellbeing of the poor.

You might not know: Hill was the first to use the term "green belt for London".

12. The anti-fracking Nanas

The yellow-clad Nanas in street protest against fracking
The anti-fracking Nanas on the streets in Blackpool
Credit: Helen Rimmer

I want clean water and clean air for my children... Fighting fracking has brought this community together.

"Nana" Cheryl Atkinson

A group of women from the north of England – including Cheryl Atkinson, centre front, and Tina Louise Rothery, right. They first came together in 2014 to protect their community and the environment from fracking – hydraulic fracturing of underground shale rock to extract gas/oil.

You might not know: The Nanas fronted several rallies and campaigns, and even went to court. They successfully helped stop fracking operations in the UK. 

13. Simona Getova

Young Macedonian activist Simona Getova, speaking in front of campaign banners
Simona Getova of SOS Valandovo
Credit: Young Friends of the Earth Europe

Macedonian activist and member of Young Friends of the Earth Europe. Her group, SOS Valandovo, has worked tirelessly for years to raise awareness of the potential environmental and community damage threatened by the Kazandol copper mine in this unspoilt agricultural region.

You might not know: Getova quit her job to move back to her home town in south-east Macedonia to help build the resistance to the Kazandol mine.


Based on an article by Jenny Hawley, first published in March 2016.