Being a mother and a climate activist during a pandemic has put an extra burden on the shoulders of women. But despite the obstacles of a difficult year, women continued a legacy of environmental protection.
In honor of Women’s History Month, Pakistani-American artist Maliha Abidi created portraits of “Six Women Saving the Planet You Might Not Know About.” Her art is a great way to teach kids about a diverse group of women of varying ages, paving the way to climate action.
I contacted Abidi to learn more about the project that she had undertaken in conjunction with Lonely Whale, a group working to protect the world’s oceans.
How did you choose the six women?
Women are fighting at the front lines of climate change all over the world. While the media only highlights a select few, there isn’t a lack of stories that we can feel inspired by. Diversity and intersectionality are at the heart of every project I create, so I wanted to show women from various countries and communities fighting against global warming and climate change. You will find that activists belong to different fields of studies and vary in age.
What can kids learn from the younger activists?
Activism knows no age, so there are women of all ages in the six we selected, but if we specifically speak about youth leaders and what the next generation can learn from them, the answer is radical hope. The youth involved with climate change are concerned for their present and future. There is a whole lot more on the line for them than a politician or a businessman who chooses to ignore the devastating impacts of climate change because of capitalism, political gain, or any number of other selfish reasons. Youth leaders are fighting, are screaming for help, are protesting, and are hopeful that their voices will be heard. Another thing I absolutely love about youth leaders is that they don’t let anyone tell them that they are too young to make a difference, even though at times older people or older leaders don’t take them seriously. Regardless of it all, they stand strong.
Here are the six women with brief bios:
Sharon Lavigne (above): Sharon Lavigne has been seeking environmental justice for her community of St. James, Louisiana, in what is known as “Cancer Alley.” Her goal is to halt a $9.4 billion plastic manufacturing complex from being built about a mile and a half from her house. She has Reps. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ) and Donald McEachin (D-VA) on board with her outreach to President Biden.
Xiye Bastida: Born and raised in Mexico, a member of the Otomi-Toltec Indigenous Peoples, Bastida is now based in New York City, where she spearheads climate justice actions. She is a principal organizer in the Fridays for Future youth climate strike movement. She has stated, “Despair is not an option,” and challenges others to envision cities as a “sanctuary for nature.”
Ridhima Pandey: Called the “Greta Thunberg of India,” Pandey is 13 years old. The Kedarnath flood in 2013 galvanized her to action. When she was nine, she filed a petition against the Indian government. Her complaint was their “inaction to mitigate climate change.”
Vanessa Nakate: In 2018, after becoming concerned about the exceedingly high temperatures in Uganda, Nakate instigated an independent climate movement in her country. In 2019, she started a personal strike against the government’s failure to act. Nakate, 24, works to educate people about environmental racism and how it impacts African countries. In 2020, Nakate was cropped out of a photo of young activists where she had been the only person of color – despite her being the founder of the Africa-based Rise Up Movement and her Youth for Future Africa involvement.
Dr. Katherine Wilkinson: The co-founder of The All We Can Save Project, Wilkinson is an author, TED speaker, and Rhodes Scholar. Wilkinson believes that girls and women are a key to solving the climate crisis. She promotes the three “e’s” to bring this about: education, equity, and empowerment.
Helena Gualinga: Telling international leaders at the COP25 United Nations Climate Change conference in 2019 that they were guilty of “criminal negligence” did not phase Indigenous Ecuadorian activist Gualinga. Now 18 years old, Gualinga is fighting for the survival of her Sarayaku community’s land and way of life against the fossil fuel companies that want to despoil the Amazon.