5 of the Most Influential Female Activists of Our Time

As we find ourselves in the middle of International Women’s History Month, I thought it’d be a great idea to celebrate by honoring some of the most influential female environmentalists of our time. Hailing from all over the world, womankind has furthered the progress of environmentalism in ways done by no other. So without further ado, I present to you 5 female environmentalists that deserve a special shoutout. Keep reading to see who they are!

  1. Vandana Shiva

Environmental activist, ecofeminist, scholar – there’s nothing Dr. Vandana Shiva can’t do, it seems. Born in Dehradun, India, Dr. Shiva is the founder of the Navdanya project. Meaning “9 seeds” in Hindi, the project aimed to reduce the incredibly high dependency on the homogenization of crop production, or the shift towards decreasing crop diversity. Dr. Shiva advocated for conserving unique strains of crops, and for farmers to save some of their seeds each harvest cycle to use in the next. This way, pesticide usage would decrease, and farmers would not need to keep buying new seeds each year.

Originally focused in India, Navdanya built over 40 seed banks before expanding internationally with the creation of Diverse Women for Diversity. Dr. Shiva isn’t just an activist – she’s also a multiple best-selling author. Her many written works criticize global corporations for taking advantage of and privatizing the rich biological resources present in developing nations in such a way that neither was based on the consent of the hosts nor gave them some profits in return. Now the world’s most powerful opponent of the agriculture industry, Dr. Shiva has received numerous accolades for her grassroots work, including the Right Livelihood Award and the Sydney Peace Prize.

  1. Marina Silva

Environmentalist-turned-politician Marina Silva has been making waves in the Brazilian government as the Minister of the Environment since 2003. Starting in the 80s, Silva and the late Chico Mendes, a rubber tapper leader, was one of the main founders of the empates movement, which was a series of peaceful demonstrations in response to the scores of deforestation and invasion of indigenous lands occurring during that time. Following Mendes’ assassination in 1988, Silva continued their work, helping protect thousands of hectares of land and the jobs of the rubber tappers who managed them.

Acre, the state from which she originated, now facilitates countless sustainable extractive reserves. Battling health conditions, Silva became the first rubber tapper elected to the federal senate in 1994, where she helped integrate environmental policy and social justice into the federal agenda, and eventually became Minister of the Environment. Since then, Silva has been named a Champion of the Earth by the UN Environment Programme and received the Goldman Prize, among other awards.

  1. Isatou Ceesay

Gambian activist Isatou Ceesay has been hailed the “queen of recycling”, and for good reason. Facing increasingly worrisome waste issues in her poverty-stricken home village, Ceesay watched as plastic bags were burned as fuel, releasing toxic fumes into the air, and garbage piling up on the streets as there was no garbage collection, and decided to take matters into her own hands. After becoming a volunteer with the US Peace Corps, Ceesay thought of ingenious ways to upcycle the plastic waste around her, using what her sister had taught her about crocheting to turn plastic bags into purses to sell. Forming a small women’s group, Ceesay crocheted 1 purse out of 10 plastic bags, which she turned into “plarn”, or plastic yarn. Despite heavy criticism from the men in her village, the group quickly grew, earning the name N’jau Recycling and Income Generation Group (NRIGG).

NRIGG allowed the local women to break the gender norms, earn some money for themselves and their community, and eventually fund their education. In 2007, NRIGG’s market spread to America, and their members found ways to create more products out of waste and find cheap, eco-friendly alternatives to fuel like briquettes made of coconut husks, mango leaves, and dried grass. Once they ran out of waste in N’jau, NRIGG started taking waste from other villages, educating them as well. Ceesay then was able to travel around Gambia when she led a women’s project for the Swedish NGO Future in Our Hands. Since then, NRIGG has become the Women’s Initiative Gambia, the Gambian government has outlawed the import and use of plastic bags, and Ceesay’s work has earned her a Making a World of Difference award from the International Alliance for Women.

  1. Sylvia Earle

Sylvia Earle is no less of a true legend in the ocean exploration movement. An American oceanographer and explorer, she has produced countless groundbreaking research cementing the environmental value of our oceans. She has logged over 7,000 hours underwater, led hundreds of oceanic expeditions, and even set a world record for the deepest untethered dive. She was one of the first underwater explorers to use SCUBA equipment, the first female chief scientist at the NOAA, and the first female explorer in residence for the National Geographic Society, even serving on the National Advisory Committee on Oceans and Atmosphere.

The list goes on with her accomplishments: she boasts years and years of intensive research and training in her field, helping to pave the way for women in ocean expeditions, has traveled the world, quite literally, with her work, designed new technology, and created multiple opportunities for women to become more involved. Publishing over a 100 scientific papers, Earle is one of the most visible pioneers for women in environmentalism. For her work, she has won the Hubbard Medal, the Patron’s Gold medal, and a TED Prize.

  1. Rachel Carson

If I had to credit the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to one singular person, it’d be Rachel Carson (don’t worry Senator Gaylord Nelson and Earth Day, you’re just as important too). Coming from a background of oceanography and zoology, Carson is best known for her famous expose Silent Spring. Published in 1962, the book featured extensive research about the dangers of the use of chemical pesticides in agriculture, which immediately led to a nationwide ban on DDT, one of the most common pesticides used in the day, and in the long run, catalyzed the environmentalism movement in the US. The book was also ahead of its time, focusing on how pesticides harm not only the ecosystems, but humans themselves.

The outcry Silent Spring sparked in the American populace was a large factor in President Richard Nixon’s decision to create the EPA. Besides her success with Silent Spring, Carson’s other works, Under the Sea Wind and The Sea Around Us, helped her earn a National Book Award and a Guggenheim grant. Despite criticisms from the chemical industry, who worked hard to shame and humiliate her, Carson’s work garnered national attention. Following her death in 1964, she was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

To all my fellow girls out there, I hope this list has inspired you to believe in what you think is right, pursue your passion, and never be put down by anyone who says you can’t do something. You can do whatever you put your mind to, whether it be in environmentalism or something completely unrelated. Break the world’s barriers, show the globe the power of womankind! And even if you aren’t a girl, I hope the same messages apply to you as well. That’s all for today, folks. See you next time!

Content Sources:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: