ELLEN JOHNSON SIRLEAF

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Women are central to inclusive environmental solutions in Africa and beyond

Environmental crises disproportionately impact women and girls. In Africa and around the world, current climate and biodiversity challenges exacerbate existing gender inequalities and put a heavy burden on the shoulders of women whose livelihoods depend on diverse and healthy natural resources.

However, African women have risen to the challenge and demonstrated strong and steadfast leadership in the face of environmental adversity. Standing at the frontlines of the fight against climate change, biodiversity loss, and natural resource depletion in Africa, they are turning tables and leading inclusive environmental action.

With Earth Month coming to a close, so might the conversations around environmental issues that took center stage in April. While an annual awareness month can be an effective tool to advocate for change and inspire action, we want to remember that ‘every day, is earth day’ and that safeguarding women’s and girls’ rights is particularly crucial for climate risk mitigation. 

Home to 16% of the world’s population and one-fifth of the world’s wildlife species, Africa is a biodiversity powerhouse. Yet, significant effort is needed to scale up environmental actions that take into account the continent’s most vulnerable demographic – its women.

Women leaders are leading climate action on the African continent and beyond, and help mitigate the environmental impact on women and girls. Through their activism and advocacy, Amujae Leaders Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr and Bogolo Kenewendo have created solutions for women, by women, to help tackle the repercussions of environmental and climate crises and the resulting inequalities.

UN Climate Change High-Level Champions’ Special Advisor, Africa Director and former Botswana minister, Ms. Kenewendo celebrated Earth Day on 22 April in her country’s Okavango Delta – a UNESCO World Heritage site and home to some of the world’s most endangered large mammal species.

For Ms. Kenewendo, “celebrating the abundance of life in the purest of places on earth” is a unique Earth Day experience that she hopes will be enjoyed “for generations to come.” A tireless advocate for gender equity in climate action, she called for greater global accountability and for increased investments to protect nature at a recent discussion on Green Development at the G20 Sherpa Meeting.

As Mayor of Freetown, Sierra Leone, Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr is steering inclusive and sustainable development plans that transform the socio-economic prospects of women and girls in the city. A climate activist at heart, Mayor Aki-Sawyerr has successfully led the Transform Freetown initiative that seeks to improve the quality of life for Freetonians through sustainable and equitable policies – including reforestation and waste management actions.

Attending a recent event at the UN 2023 Water Conference in her capacity as a member of the Global Commission on the Economics of Water, Mayor Aki-Sawyerr delivered a strong message highlighting “the significance of the global water crisis to women all over the world and how important it is for women to lead global and local responses to the crisis.”

Co-chaired by African woman leader and World Trade Organization Director-General, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the Global Commission delivered its report, ‘Turning the Tide: A Call to Collective Action,’ at the conference. The report urges the global community to take bold and integrated actions to secure a just and sustainable water future for everyone.

Leading gender-informed conservation and climate actions, African women are playing a critical role in protecting the continent’s natural assets and enhancing equity among its populations.

Young activists such as Hindou Ibrahim, Elizabeth Wathuti, and Vanessa Nakate are leading the fight against climate and ecological crises, and have stood as role models for African women and girls. From advocating for the rights of girls, women, and indigenous peoples, to leading youth movements and promoting pan-African environmental activism, these African women leaders are determined to act to protect the planet and put human rights, equity, and justice at the heart of all their efforts.

Earth Month is a global reminder that gender equity and sustainability are interconnected. Women are central to any efforts to create inclusive environmental solutions in Africa and beyond – not only on Earth Day or during Eart Month, but every day.

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