“As governments meet tomorrow at the UN Climate Summit, women worldwide are joining in solidarity to speak out against policies and activities that not only threaten the climate and their communities but the very future of all life as we know it,” began WECAN International Co-Founder and Executive Director, Osprey Orielle Lake, welcoming the tightly packed crowd to ‘Women Leading Solutions on the Frontlines of Climate Change’, held at the U.N. Church Center in New York City this past Monday, September 22nd 2014.
“We need system change,” she continued, “Women are standing for our Mother Earth, women are standing for future generations, women are standing to protect the web of life and front line communities.”
The event, held as part of the mobilization surrounding the People’s Climate March, Climate Week NYC and the U.N. Climate Leadership Summit, served as a forum for global women to share why and how they are standing and leading the movement for climate justice and equitable solutions to the climate crisis.
First Nations acapella group Ulali opened the event with their song ‘Idle No More’, so powerful in its words and rhythms that goosebumps and tears overcame many of those gathered. Blending poignant lyrics on taking action and the coming “human awakening” with traditional drumming and singing techniques, the song set the stage for a compelling event.
Sally Ranney, co-Founder of WECAN International, introduced the organization further and congratulated everyone present for participation in the People’s Climate March the previous day, urging that, “we have to move now with a lot of solidarity, a united voice”. Her speech highlighted biodiversity protection and unity with frontline communities, two themes which reverberated throughout the panel discussion.
Crystal Lameman of the Beaver Lake Cree Nation, Treaty 6 Alberta Canada, and Sierra Club Canada opened the panel with an impassioned speech reflecting her experiences living in “ground-zero” of the tar sands.
Crystal spoke of dire levels of soil, water, and air pollution engulfing her home, explaining that more than 84% of her people traditional land has been leased to oil companies without community consent, making them “economic hostages” on their own homelands. However Crystal also spoke of hope, “this is an everyone movement. If you are living, breathing, walking, this fight belongs to you too… we are here, and we are not going anywhere.”
Taking the audience on a journey from the tar sands of Alberta to the oil fields tearing at the Amazon rainforest, Patricia Gualinga, Kichwa leader of Sarayaku, Ecuador spoke next. Her speech focused on her communities fight to protect their cultural and ecologic heritage from the expansive fossil fuel and mining projects being pushed under a false development paradigm. Clean air and water, organic foods, and the ability to walk barefoot without fear of contamination is true wealth, Patricia explained, with poverty emerging only from destruction of the Earth.
In reaction to the exploitation of nature and indigenous communities the women of her region marched hundreds of miles in October 2013 from the Amazon basin to the Ecuadorian capital, Quito, denouncing continuing violations and demonstrating an unwavering resolve to stop the destruction.
Highlighting the simultaneous diversity and unity of the voices of the global climate justice movement, Dr. Fatimata Diop took the floor next to discuss climate vulnerability and solutions in her West African home of Senegal.
Fatimata discussed her work leading the UNDESERT program in its efforts to combat desertification and biodiversity loss through reforestation and agroforestry initiatives. Dr. Diop also spoke on issues of deep social inequity;
“In Africa people did not have lunch because of the climate change issue. Some of them will not have dinner because of the climate change issue. African people are not responsible. We need climate justice, we need more solidarity… let us work together to inspire real change, change that empowers women and gives them a central role in decision making,”
Angelina Galiveta, founder of 100% Renewables Policy Institute presented next on the reality of the transition to a zero carbon future. Speaking from years of first hand experience working within the energy industry, Mrs. Galiveta made it clear that we already have the tools and solutions needed to transform our system, if only we move forward boldly now.
Nobel Laureate Jody Williams spoke next, demonstrating first hand the power and importance of the solidarity work discussed by her fellow presenters. She focused much of her speech on issues of leadership that have consistently resulted in policymakers putting profit over the planet, at the expense of life itself.
“Perhaps we take them [our leaders] out to the middle of a field and have them negotiate there, or perhaps, where we should really put them is in the middle of the tar sands… let them see the realities of their policies,” stated Mrs. Williams, reflecting on the U.N Climate Leadership Summit to be held the following day.
Closing the panel was Ponca Nation elder Casey Camp-Horinek of the Indigenous Environmental Network, speaking on reconceiving and reviving our relationship with the Earth and each other. Casey described how true power resides not in any economic system or governement, but in the water, air, soil, and biodiversity that sustain us every single day.
The event also served as part of WECAN International’s launch of the Women’s Climate Action Agenda. Lake held up the 80 plus page document and explained, “The Women’s Climate Action Agenda analyzes the root causes of environmental degradation and social injustice, ultimately presenting powerful recommendations and alternative solutions to the climate crisis. We can act now and we must act now, this is what the Action Agenda declares on every page.”
Following the panel discussion, WECAN International women from across the globe delivered updates on climate issues and solutions in their regions. Thilmeeza Hussain, founder of Voice of Women Maldives, spoke on the dire political, social, and environmental conditions in her country and on the imperative for concrete action now. She was followed by Carmen Capriles, WECAN Regional Coordinator for Latin America and Founder of Reacción Climática in Bolivia; Neha Misra, Chief Collaboration Officer of Solar Sister; and Claire Greensfelder, long time activist and media aficionado who has served as a consultant to WECAN International.
The event closed with a Wall of Women Action, bringing presenters and audience members together in physical demonstration to highlight women’s roles as guardians of the Earth, their communities, and generations to come. Looking out over the group of men and women of all ages and heritages, shoulder to shoulder with their hands over their hearts, the words spoken minutes before by presenters echoed in my head. “Our struggle is united”, “WECAN, we are women of action”.
Blog by: Emily Arasim, WECAN International Special Projects & Communication Coordinator