Women are at the forefront of climate activism. Working and volunteering in sustainability and climate action, I am surrounded by other women, non-binary and trans folk, many of them young, all of them incredibly capable, strong and inspiring.
Greta Thunberg has started a global movement of empowered youth, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is fighting relentlessly for a Green New Deal, and Isra Hirsi is carving out a space for young people of colour in the climate movement. Closer to home, Amelia Telford is empowering First Nations communities all over Australia to stand up against coal and gas projects on their land through the SEED Indigenous Youth Climate Network. In Canberra, proud Wiradjuri woman and budding science communicator Dhani Gilbert is working to combine science and cultural knowledge to improve our stewardship of the land. Let's celebrate that!
Women make up the majority of leadership positions in this movement - as we should. But why should we? Because while climate change affects all of us, women are among the worst affected. Around the world, women make up the majority of people living in poverty. And because of enforced gender roles and women having less personal agency in a lot of places, they are less able to protect themselves and their children from the intensifying impacts of climate change. Considering they've done the least to contribute to the climate crisis, this is an injustice. Let's not be okay with that.
And while I believe it's important that women lead this movement, this is not just "women's work". Multiple studies on attitudes towards caring for the environment show that men are less likely to engage in sustainable behaviours or talk about environmental issues, for fear of being perceived as feminine. Which leaves a huge chunk of the work to us. Let's change that.
I acknowledge the relationship between femininity and caring for the Earth. We have referred to our home as "Mother Nature" for thousands of years. Perhaps there is a link between the way women have been (and are) oppressed and exploited, and the way we exploit the Earth's natural resources and cause unregulated environmental havoc. No wait, they're definitely linked.
Climate change, as well as innumerable injustices experienced by women, indigenous peoples, people of colour, those with disabilities and communities living in poverty, all come from the same source. The social and climate crises we are experiencing are not the problems, they are symptoms. Symptoms of the broken, unequal, patriarchal societal structures we live and work under, that favour the wealthy and privileged. Let's fix that.
It's time to throw old notions of what it means to be masculine or feminine out the door. Our great Mother Earth, who breathed life into us, who provides for us, who holds us and heals us - it is all of our responsibility to protect her, not just that of women. Let's respect that.
We know it's not just our emissions that need to change, it's our society. Climate action is just one piece of the puzzle of the societal shift we are working for. It's time to create systems, policies and communities that are inclusive and hear the voices of all, not just the white and powerful.
Rather than beating down the voices of Greta, Alexandria, Isra, Amelia and Dhani, uplift them. Rather than men dominating our political and decision-making spaces, give us half the seats at the table. Creating justice for people and the planet doesn't mean sacrifice. It means equality, diversity and prosperity.
Let's embrace that.
- Madeline Diamond is the 2020 ACT Young Australian of the Year. She is the founder of Canberra-based environment group Trash Gather and the executive officer of SEE-Change, a community organisation supporting sustainability and grassroots environmental action around the ACT.