30 MARCH 2016

Earlier this month the Honduran feminist, indigenous leader and environmental activist Berta Cáceres was murdered in her home. Berta was an inspirational campaigner who had been awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize for her fight to stop a giant dam project in Honduras – one of the biggest schemes in Central America.

Women like Berta have been some of the environment’s greatest champions. In the 1960s US biologist Rachel Carson blew the whistle on pesticides, while back in the 19th century National Trust co-founder Octavia Hill fought to preserve green spaces.

But the environmental movement has not always recognised that the battle for women’s rights is an essential part of its battle for a better environment.

That is why Friends of the Earth’s Big Ideas Change the World project asked 30 prominent women to share their thinking on women and the environment. Their insights, published in Why women will save the planet, are telling.

We (all) need the environment

Our basic needs often depend on a healthy environment, and in many cultures, women are often responsible for looking after these needs – providing food, care, health and well being. Yet women do not have an equal voice when it comes to the decisions that affect the natural world we depend on.

Given the scale and urgency of challenges such as climate change, we must make the most of everyone’s skills, ideas and energy. This applies across business, politics, the media – and within environmental organisations.

Diane Elson, chair of the UK Women’s Budget Group and contributor to the book, uses the example of the ‘green economy’: “Sectors targeted for green employment expansion, like energy, construction and basic industry, are very male-dominated…women tend to have low representation and/or occupy the lower value-added rungs.” She argues that we need to rethink the ‘green economy’ to ensure gender equality.


In politics, Caroline Lucas MP describes how the culture, vested interests and workaday rules in Westminster are rigged against women – and against anyone trying to do things differently.

Yet she argues that diversity is key for strength and survival – in politics as in ecology. She describes pioneers such as Petra Kelly, the founder of the German Green Party, who argued that women define power in their own terms, reflecting their values and experiences.

“And,” she asks, “if it’s the case that the hand we’re dealt as women – our unique experiences – can be a tool to our advantage, can we do more to harness that, develop it, as politicians and activists for the environmental cause, to stand on equal footing in our so very patriarchal halls of power and further our cause?”


We are not all aspiring politicians, but we can all do our bit for our environment – and to make sure discrimination doesn’t get in the way.

We can treat girls and boys the same when it comes to getting muddy, climbing trees and looking for insects – because we all need to connect to nature.

We can share out household chores, childcare and work responsibilities so that we have time to do other things – a walk in the woods, or getting involved in the community.

And we can stand up for equal opportunities for women and men – at work, in government, in the community or in your family.

Friends of the Earth is aiming to make gender part of everything we do and to work together with women’s groups – because environmental justice and women’s equality are two sides of the same coin.

Why women will save the planet, published by Zed Books, is available now. 

Jenny Hawley,  editor of ABOUT AUTHOR

Jenny Hawley is the editor of 'Why women will save the planet', published by Zed Books and available now.