The yellow-clad Nanas in street protest against fracking

International Women’s Day: our planet needs gender justice

Although women bear the brunt of environmental injustice, they’re also leading the way to save our planet. Find out why we celebrate International Women’s Day and how we’re working for gender justice.
  Published:  07 Mar 2023    |      3 minute read

What’s International Women’s Day and why’s it celebrated?

International Women’s Day is celebrated all over the world on 8 March every year. Officially beginning in 1911, it was adopted by the United Nations in 1975, with each year focusing on a different theme.

International Women’s Day is all about championing women’s rights and highlighting women’s struggles. It’s covered a wide variety of issues over the past century, including the right to vote, equal pay, displacement by conflict and sexual violence.

A group of smiling women hold signs saying Stop Cambo
Stop Cambo petition hand-in
Credit: David Mirzoeff 2021. All rights reserved.

This observance is an important event in the global calendar. It raises awareness of gendered oppression and discrimination, promotes a fair and inclusive future, and celebrates women everywhere. For Friends of the Earth, it’s a chance to celebrate the incredible women in our network and advocate for gender justice – equality for all genders – in the environmental movement.

How are the environment and the patriarchy linked?

The impacts of the climate and ecological crises aren't felt equally. Women – especially poorer women and women of colour – are disproportionately affected by environmental injustice. This imbalance is an example of the patriarchy, a social system in which men hold more power and women are discriminated against and undervalued. 

Women are more likely to die in disasters caused by extreme weather. 61% of those who died in 2008’s Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar were women, while in some severely affected villages twice as many women aged 18-60 died as men. And more than 90% of those killed in the 1991 Bangladesh cyclone were women. 

Women are often primary caregivers for children and the elderly, and so are last to evacuate when disaster strikes. Power imbalances and restrictive gender roles can also put women at a disadvantage when it comes to responding to, and recovering from, emergencies.

Here in Europe, heatwaves are also more likely to kill women than men. In France’s 2003 heatwave for example, women were 15% more likely to die than men of the same age.

Our food system is another key example of gender inequity. While women own less land than men, they represent upwards of 40% of the agricultural labour force globally. Despite this, they receive less education, agricultural assistance and access to household money to invest in food production. On top of that, it’s estimated that 60% of people who are chronically hungry are women and girls. 

The factors and systems that lead to the exploitation of natural resources also defend patriarchy and lead to violations against women that create injustice and inequality.

Rizwana Hasan, Friends of the Earth Bangladesh

Our current systems – based on capitalism, patriarchy, colonialism and more – are failing us, especially those they exploit and oppress. The climate and ecological crises aren’t independent of power and politics – instead they’re driven by them. And with women making up 80% of those displaced by climate change, it’s clear that patriarchal oppression and environmental injustice are intrinsically linked.

Why women’s leadership is important for our planet

With so much inequality to contend with, it can be easy to see women as victims. Yet women are often on the frontlines of tackling environmental injustice, well-placed to fight for and develop solutions that work for everyone, not just those in power. At Friends of the Earth, we know the women in our community groups and international network are leaders who shape our movement for the better.

There are already many incredible women leading the charge against climate and ecological breakdown. Wangari Maathai, the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize, founded the Green Belt Movement to address poverty, conflict and environmental degradation by encouraging women to plant trees. Berta Cáceres, an indigenous Honduran environmentalist who was murdered for her activism, forced the world’s largest dam builder to pull out of the Agua Zarca Dam. And here in the UK, the anti-fracking Nanas in Lancashire protected their community from fracking and contributed to its nationwide ban through their rallies and campaigns. 

The late Indigenous activist Berta Cáceres handing out a candle to a fellow peaceful protestor
Berta Cáceres

When women are allowed and empowered to take a seat at the table, we all benefit. And we know we can’t save our planet without gender justice driven by and for women.  

How Friends of the Earth is working for international gender justice

As part of Friends of the Earth International, we’re committed to gender justice and dismantling patriarchy. A feminist approach to protecting the environment is key throughout the Friends of the Earth International federation. And our grassroots movement is vital for empowering women in communities all over the world. 

For me, ending patriarchy – especially in Africa – is like putting an end to most of the heartfelt day to day setbacks of women, ranging from oppression, denial of their rights and lack of power to make decisions. There is nothing for us, without us.

Peruth Atukwatse, Friends of the Earth Uganda

By putting gender justice at the heart of our movement, we can help realise a world with different ways of working, farming, and caring. A world that prioritises wellbeing, co-operation and sustainability over profit and patriarchal power.

Ultimately, the source of the injustices we face – whether we’re women, trans people, workers or people of colour – is one and the same: the system that’s also destroying the environment. The way to change this is by coming together and realising our common strength. Why not get involved in the movement this International Women’s Day?