Wangari Maathai in Oslo

International Women's Day: inspirational environmentalists

To mark International Women's Day, we celebrate some of the most extraordinary women who've championed nature over the years.
  06 Nov 2017    |      8 min

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

International Women's Day is also an opportunity to campaign globally for gender equality.

All around the world individuals, women's groups and networks, charities and organisations will take part in a huge range of events including conferences and concert performances, festivals and fun runs.

We're marking the day by highlighting the accomplishments of some of the world's most formidable female environmental activists. We've also released a book in association with C40 Cities: Why Women Will Save the Planet is a collection of articles and interviews from some of the leading lights of the environmental and feminist movements.

From defending rights to introducing vital laws, their successes are truly inspirational for women and men everywhere.

1. Berta Cáceres (d 2016)

Berta Cáceres, 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize winner
Berta Cáceres, 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize winner
Credit: www.goldmanprize.org

I want to live. 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 murdered in her home on 3 March 2016. As an indigenous, environmental and human rights activist she knew well 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.

2. 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.

3. Gro Harlem Brundtland

Gro Harlem Brundtland speaking to patients, Thailand 2014
Gro Harlem Brundtland speaking to patients, Thailand 2014
Credit: Kaung Htet-The Elders

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, whose 1987 Brundtland Report led to international action on sustainable development, including Agenda 21.

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.

4. 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 recently focused on cases related to women’s reproductive and pharmaceutical care.

5. Petra Kelly (d 1992)

Petra Kelly at Green Party rally, Bonn 1982
Petra Kelly at Green Party rally, Bonn 1982
Credit: Press Association

If there is a future, it will be Green.

Petra Kelly

Co-founder of the German Green Party and leading international activist for peace and non-violence, ecology, feminism and human rights.

You might not know: Petra Kelly spent her teenage years in the USA where she was inspired by the civil rights movement.

6. Rachel Carson (d 1964)

Rachel Carson urged US Congress to restrict chemical pesticides and aerial spraying
Rachel Carson urged US Congress to restrict chemical pesticides and aerial spraying
Credit: Press Association

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.

7. 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.

8. 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".

9. 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.

    10. Vandana Shiva

    Dr Vandana Shiva, smiling, in Cancun, Mexico
    Dr Vandana Shiva at WTO meeting, Cancun, 2003
    Credit: Friends of the Earth

    We are either going to have a future where women lead the way to make peace with the Earth or we are not going to have a human future at all.Vandana Shiva

    Indian physicist, ecofeminist and founder of Seed Freedom. She has campaigned internationally on the environmental and human costs of chemically-treated and genetically engineered food. She's supported anti-GMO movements in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Europe.

    You might not know: Time magazine called Dr Shiva an environmental hero in 2003, and in 2010 Forbes magazine identified her as one of the world’s top 7 most powerful women.

    11. 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 have fronted several rallies and campaigns, and even gone to court, successfully helping to slow down fracking operations in the UK.

    12. 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.

    Feeling inspired?

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