For years, women “water protectors” and leaders of the Sioux, along with allying tribes, have been peacefully protesting against the Dakota Access Pipeline that has jeopardized their community’s water supply as it carries thousands of gallons of oil across the Native territory. Met with opposition and often violence by the police, the women of the tribes have remained steadfast to the movement—and have finally seen a victory for their efforts. In a decision fitting for Wednesday’s Earth Day, a federal judge recently ordered an environmental review of the pipeline. If you’ve been following the environmental movement recently, you’ve probably noticed that some of the most prominent leaders of the cause have been women. While issues such as the Dakota Access Pipeline and climate change have rightfully been deemed feminist causes, it’s important to remember that everyone has a stake in saving Mother Earth—not just women.
Though humans’ harmful footprint on the environment will have a devastating impact on everyone, our society has yet again applied restrictions on which gender gets to hold the reusable tote bag. A 2016 study revealed that both men and women view eco-friendly behavior as feminine—leaving many men to reject taking part in sustainability for fear of risking their masculinity. With seasonal wildfires, flooding, and hurricanes worsening, we don’t have the luxury of letting gender stereotypes keep us from doing our parts.
While some have felt the pressure of gender deter them from recycling, a new generation of eco-warriors has risen to the challenge. 17-year-old powerhouse Greta Thunberg has become the face of a generation discontent with the progress of environmental protections. The young activist has kept those in power on their toes, remarking: “For way too long, the politicians and the people in power have gotten away with not doing anything to fight the climate crisis, but we will make sure that they will not get away with it any longer. We are striking because we have done our homework and they have not.” Young women like Autumn Peltier, Mari Copeny (aka Little Miss Flint), and Xiye Bastida are just a few more inspiring and notable activists that have “done their homework” and are using their voices to bring about change.
Women are disproportionately affected by environmental disasters. 80 percent of people displaced by climate change are women, women face increasing rates of domestic violence as the globe warms, and issues such as the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline have brought along health, economic, and community concerns for women of color. Though the abuse to the Earth has specific consequences for women and girls, the impact it has on our society can be felt by everyone. So the next time you hear someone question the importance of fighting for our environment, remember the words of actor and environmental organizer Jane Fonda: “We have very little time, and if we don’t do what’s necessary in that brief amount of time, it’s hard to even think about what the future is going to be like.”
Take Action! Learn more about the inspiring women behind the environmental justice movement and visit the United Nations Environment Programme website for small ways to become more eco-friendly.