Activists Convene in Bali for International Summit on Women and Climate

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. ☀

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