The first comes from a conference put on by the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) about women on the front lines of climate change. The event was held in a large conference room in a Marriott in the center of Paris, but despite the corporate setting, the atmosphere was raw, honest, and genuine. The audience was almost entirely women, and attendees hailed from as far abreast as the Philippines and the Ecuadorian Amazon.
The event’s host opened by talking about why including women worldwide is so critical in an effective response to climate change. Some particularly salient points were:
- Studies show that involving women in peacebuilding processes increases the chances of success by more than 25%.
- Because women produce 60-80% of food consumed in the developing world, they must be involved in discussions of food security and food sovereignty. They hold the social capital and expert knowledge needed to change food systems.
- By modeling small scale solutions that have a large impact, women are the antithesis to the top-down, profit-driven processes imperiling effective adaptation initiatives.
She also talked about some of Women and Gender Coalition's goals for the Paris Agreement, which include a 1.5 C warming target and inclusion of language about the rights of women in the operative text.
The North Dakota woman talked about how women have always played a central role in the balance of life, saying that when it comes to our relationship to the planet, “you cannot expect to take and take and take without ever giving back.” She also expressed her frustration with making her voice heard within the UNFCCC process, saying, “Women and indigenous people have the answer if you would just listen to us and stop telling us what’s best for us.”
I left the event feeling simultaneously empowered by all of the brave women who had spoken and frustrated that their voices are still on the fringe of the COP. But in future times when I need strength or inspiration I’ll look back on a favorite quote from the day: “We women, we can do anything. We carry our babies on our backs and run through the jungle at night. We can do anything.”
The second experience I’d like to recount was an interview I conducted with Princess Lucaj, a Gwich'in Athabascan woman with the Indigenous Environmental Network. I met Princess mid-morning, in a flat she’d rented with her family for the week they are in Paris. Her husband, brother, and two sons were with here, and there was something about literally sitting down at the kitchen table in the midst of her family that erased the usual barriers of Le Bourget.
While Princess and I spoke about a lot of topics, by far the most memorable part of the interview for me was the following story:
“My mom, when I was a little girl, shared a story with me. We were living in Los Angeles and went by all the oil rigs... We used to call them grasshoppers or dinosaurs. They looked prehistoric.
One day I asked my mom, ‘What are those?’ She said, ‘A long time ago, Mother Earth buried all these toxins deep inside of her body because she didn’t want them to harm the species on the surface of the earth, and those rigs are drilling it back up.’ And I was just like, ‘Well, why? That doesn’t make any sense.’
And that story left such a deep impression on me, and just a little while after that we visited Little Brea Tar Pits. And there was this little bird that had all that oil on its feathers, and it was alive. And I had a stick—I was five—and I was trying to get it out [of the oil] and my mom said, ‘You just have to let it go - we can’t do anything about it.’
Later when I saw what happened with Exxon Valdez, I thought, ‘We cannot continue to do this to ourselves. We’re doing it to ourselves.’ It’s not living in balance. It’s not living in harmony…[but] I feel like in some sense that we were meant to be at this crux, this precipice, and I do feel like we are being spiritually called upon to figure it out.”
I loved this story because it was so vivid and honest and different from most what I’d been hearing during the COP. Princess’s ability to see such traumatizing experiences as a call to action was very inspiring to me, and is something I would like to remember in years to come.