Never underestimate the power of women. Across the world women are finding ways to navigate their communities through the ravages of climate change. Binding their communities together, presenting a collective voice, holding their governments to account. Women that never sought a platform. Women that never envisaged themselves standing up for their families and their communities are coming to the fore, realising that they could use their voice, however unpracticed.

The likes of Constance Okollet, a Ugandan farmer and mother, whose rural village was washed away in severe floods in 2007. In light of the ineffective government response to the disaster, and seeing how much her neighbours were suffering, she became the voice of her community, forming a women’s network, the Osukuru United Women Network, and using it to advocate to her local council for aid. She attended meetings further and further from her home, learning for the first time about climate change, and why it was that the flooding happened. As her knowledge of climate change grew, so too did her advocacy. She now regularly speaks at international climate meetings, bringing her personal experience of climate devastation to the world, using her compelling voice to call for change, standing up for her community. She is testament to the power of a grassroots female voice.

I am in awe of these women who have often lost everything, and yet still find the dignity and strength to raise up their communities and speak out courageously with a truth that’s hard to ignore. What these women are doing is a microcosm of what we require globally. In the face of the ravenous corporate greed and political half-heartedness we need collective community action. Addressing our environmental crises will be bad for businesses that rely on the status quo, yet not doing so will inflict suffering on our future selves and offspring in ways we cannot even begin to imagine, in ways many of these female leaders have already had to grapple with. We need to rise up. We need collective community action to make our voice as compelling as that of the sacred euro.

These types of movements need spokespeople to be effective; to advocate, educate, empathise. In Ireland the environmental movement is heavily populated with women- fierce, smart, passionate women that I am so fortunate to work with and learn from. But the role of spokesperson for the environment is not always an easy road. Just as we rise against the
dying of our planet, so the patriarchy rises, as it always has and always will, against the power of collective female knowledge and might.

Regardless of gender, the environmental message is a generally unwelcome one in the world of polluting business, but the backlash is all the more intense when you’re a woman. As a female environmental advocate I am frequently picked apart online, almost exclusively by men that benefit from the status quo. They don’t argue the substance of my inconvenient message, they try to undermine me, question my credentials, cast doubt on me and my motives.

I’ve had unscrupulous journalists turn me into click bait, and have had to ask my father to hide a particular newspaper article from my mother in case she would worry for my safety. I’ve witnessed my husband’s quiet anger as he sees me be subjected to yet another Twitter pile-on, for simply doing my job. And yet this is but a bare snippet of what other women deal with, and I am certainly not the only one of my female advocate colleagues that have had to tolerate the same.

No job is worth the bullying I endure, but the truth is that this is not just a job to me. This is so much bigger, and so much smaller. I am willing to tolerate it for the sake of the world I love, and to earn the trust I see in my children’s eyes. I shall not be dissuaded.

My advice to those who seek to belittle us women is this. Never underestimate the power of women. Never doubt the fury of a mother. Never question the strength of female led community action. We see through you.

The patriarchy has had its day, and made its mess. As Mary Robinson would say, climate change is a man-made problem with a feminist solution. Now it’s time to step aside, the women will take it from here.

Dr. Elaine McGoff, An Taisce Natural Environment Officer.

Elaine works on a broad range of topics from forestry and aquaculture, to agriculture and water quality, with a particular focus on planning and environmental advocacy. She has a PhD in Freshwater Ecology from Trinity College Dublin, and an Advanced Diploma in Planning and Environmental Law from Kings Inns. She is a Steering Committee Member of the Environmental Pillar and a Director
of the Sustainable Water Network.