Photo: Caitlin Sislin.
With what environmental organization are you affiliated?
I am cofounder and codirector of Women’s Global Green Action Network, an international organization that unites and empowers grassroots women advocates, entrepreneurs, and community leaders around the world who are working in the areas of environmental, economic, and social justice.
How does your organization relate to the environment?
Both in rural and urban settings, women’s everyday contributions as mothers, food producers, and managers of essential natural resources place them in an indispensable position with respect to their communities and their environment. Too often, they are also the first to be affected when the environment is mismanaged. WGGAN works to equip women around the world with the communication tools, training opportunities, information sharing, and services required to secure a foothold in environmental and social policy-making — especially at the local level, where resources are most limited.
What are you working on at the moment?
We’re quite excited about WGGAN’s first regional training, which is being hosted by our Southeast Asian WGGAN coordinator in Palawan, Philippines. This will introduce grassroots women to the BioSand Water Filter, an inexpensive slow sand water filter built out of local resources, which helps women reclaim water security at the household level. This will be the first in a series of trainings that WGGAN regional coordinators will design and host over the next year.
What long and winding road led you to your current position?
My vision for WGGAN was inspired by multiple encounters over the years with women activists who were mobilizing their communities toward environmentally sustainable solutions — often in the face of incredible odds. In my work with citizen-based environmental NGOs — whether in East Africa, China, the Russian Far East, rural Missouri, or here in California — I witnessed the tremendous leadership of women who were launching campaigns, lobbying government officials, and shifting mind-sets.
At the same time, I also saw many of my sister activists struggling to access needed resources, information, and networking opportunities that would empower them to be even more effective.
I began to realize that a groundswell of energy would be available to these dedicated and resolute women activists if they had a “space” to build a powerbase, share best practices, and model the solutions on the global stage.
What’s been the best moment in your professional life?
The best moment was undoubtedly this March in Mexico City, when I looked around a circle of 30 grassroots women environmental leaders who had traveled from communities around the world to take part in WGGAN’s first global strategy meeting. This was an opportunity for our women, many of whom had never before left their regions, to multiply their effectiveness, build strategic alliances across borders, and make their voices heard. We stood looking at each other in amazement and silence until one woman said, “I just traveled three days to get here, and I feel like I just got home.”
Tell us about the women you work with.
The women are the activists, mothers, entrepreneurs, educators, and stewards who have taken a firm stand for the health of our communities and our planets. Devorah Brous founded the first environmental-justice organization for the disenfranchised Bedouin community in Israel. Kaisha Atakhanova led a campaign to prevent nuclear waste from being commercially imported into Kazakhstan. Sizani Ngubane founded the Rural Women’s Movement in South Africa, which mobilized over 500 women’s groups to participate actively in sustainable agriculture, local governance, and land-rights issues. Pati Ruiz Corzo spearheaded the establishment of a million-acre community-managed Biosphere Reserve in Mexico’s Sierra Gorda. These women are shaking things up.
Who is your environmental hero?
My environmental hero is Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Wangari Maathai of Kenya. Maathai started out by planting a small tree nursery in her backyard. Before she knew it, her leadership had sparked the Green Belt Movement, which has now been responsible for the planting of over 30 million trees across Africa and the education of thousands on environmentally sound alternatives. When Maathai won the Nobel Peace Prize, she illustrated the vital linkages between what she calls the “three pillars of development”: environmental sustainability, democratic governance, and human rights.
What’s your favorite movie?
Read any good books lately?
I just read Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan.
What’s your favorite meal?
Anything created by the hands of my confidants and colleagues at Back to Earth catering, an inspiring organic catering business in Berkeley, Calif.
Environmental advocacy work can be draining. What do you do to ease the stress?
A few years ago, I started wearing two different colored socks to work. If I’m feeling stressed, I can look down at my feet and remember not to take myself too seriously.
What’s your favorite place or ecosystem?
Deep in Yaeda Valley, Tanzania, where you can still hear the earth whisper things and where you can take a nap in the soft folds of baobab trees.
If you could have every InterActivist reader do one thing, what would it be?
Plant something. As Wangari Maathai says, “When you plant a tree and you see it grow, something happens to you. You want to protect it, and you value it.”