By Andrea Gutierrez
» Originally published in make/shift (Winter 2014/2015, no. 16)
In August 2014, grassroots activists from around the world converged on Bali for the Summit on Women and Climate. The four-day summit was the first meeting of its kind, a rare opportunity for around eighty activists from thirty-seven countries to forge new alliances across movements—women’s rights and environmental justice—that have traditionally not worked together very often or very well.
Though conceived and hosted by Global Greengrants, the Greengrants Alliance of Funds, and the International Network of Women’s Funds as an opportunity to introduce women leaders of environmental movements to funders, the convening was also a celebration of the work that women have accomplished in their communities with little more than determination and funds from their own pockets, in particular throughout the Global South.
As principal food producers and stewards of natural resources, women have taken the reins of climate-change activism in their communities, precisely because they stand to lose so much. In West Timor, Indonesia, Aleta Baun—or “Mama Aleta”—has led the charge against mining and commercial monoculture for almost twenty years. Though one of her earliest protests successfully drove a mining company out of her community, the subsequent years have shifted her efforts from mitigation to adaptation, with the need for women to map remaining resources becoming more acute. In Kenya, Violet Matiru takes an integrated approach, coordinating diverse efforts such as seed saving, modern irrigation, solar-panel installation, and the purchase and use of energy-efficient stoves that not only mitigate and adapt to climate change, but also provide possibilities for economic self-sufficiency and entrepreneurship, directly addressing the urban migration of men that leaves women to fend for themselves and their children.
Several land-rights and anti-deforestation activists use the tools of the ruling classes or government entities to benefit their causes, empowering themselves and their communities in the process. Joênia Batista de Carvalho is a Wapixana Indian who became Brazil’s first indigenous lawyer, using the law—or “the white man’s weapon”—to ensure indigenous rights to ancestral homelands. Suryamani Bhagat of the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand works to safeguard forests and preserve tribal culture by applying for land titles. Although none of her forty applications have yet been approved, locals have nonetheless laid claim to these lands by planting trees and vegetation.
Women leaders’ involvement in climate-change activism often comes at a cost not usually borne by their male counterparts. Nearly all women activists at the summit had received some threat of violence to themselves or their families. A list of summit participants and their countries was not publicly available for this reason.
While women leaders’ solutions are inexpensive and scalable, lack of access to funding continues to be a problem. The Climate Policy Initiative estimates that $359 billion is available in climate funding, but most of it ends up with governments rather than at the grassroots level where it is sorely needed. Funding is often available in the form of large grants, for which only legally registered organizations are eligible, and few women-led organizations represented at the summit could meet this standard. The key in providing funds to women activists and their communities is connecting them with NGOs who can serve as money managers for large grants, while still encouraging funders to provide small grants.
Although Green Climate Fund (GCF) started laying the groundwork for gender considerations in their funding at a meeting in February 2014, Global Greengrants, like Oxfam before them, nonetheless demanded in an open letter eight months later that GCF and other influential grant-making bodies get serious about gender mainstreaming in climate finance, making the case for the importance of funding for grassroots women.
By the end of the summit, attendees collaborated and came up with ideas for at least ten new projects. More than anything, these grassroots women sought learning exchanges through their participation in this first meeting. Whether the fervor of these women’s dedication and the appeals of the summit’s hosts to funders can incite lasting change has yet to be seen.
Postscript: Six weeks after the Bali summit, the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples and the worldwide Climate Summit took place simultaneously at the UN in New York. Many indigenous peoples in town for the conference could not attend the Climate Summit, nor did the conference have any chance of scoring major world leaders, who instead opted for the star-studded Climate Summit. ☀