The women who inspire me…

“With the World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Gender Gap Report findings telling us that gender parity is over 200 years away – there has never been a more important time to keep motivated and #PressforProgress. And with global activism for women’s equality fuelled by movements like #MeToo#TimesUp and more – there is a strong global momentum striving for gender parity.” International Women’s Day 2018


What better day than the 8th March to talk about the women who have inspired me, and continue to inspire me in the work of equality and environmental activism.

Caroline Lucas (1960 – )

Caroline Lucas, MP for Brighton Pavilion and the Green Party’s only MP changed the way I viewed politics. I was always of the belief that if you wanted to get elected as an MP you needed to throw out your morals and convictions and make yourself super vanilla. Caroline is not vanilla. Her work with CND has always inspired me, and her recent vocal support for women fighting against harassment in the workplace has been loud. She is a Matron of the Women’s Environment Network, an exceptional charity that I used to work for that supports women in marginalised communities to grow their own food, and advocates for more women’s voices in decision making around climate change.

Caroline Lucas was quoted as saying, ” I’m just going to dedicate the rest of my life to this party” after reading Jonathon Porritt’s Seeing Green, and she has done this with charisma and  conviction. There are not many MPs that can increase their majority at each election whist also getting arrested for protesting against fracking operations and donning a ‘No more Page 3’ t shirt during a commons debate.

“I’ve always been a bit ambitious, but I do think the Green Party is the real opposition.” Caroline Lucas

Rachel Carson (1907 – 1964)

Rachel Carson, ecologist, marine biologist and writer, is best know for her book Silent Spring, in which she challenged the practices of agricultural scientists and the government on the widespread use of synthetic chemical pesticides. Originally a marine biologist and writing many books and papers on her specialism, it was with reluctance that she turned to writing about chemical usage, driven by what she saw as a disturbing practice and one that would have long term impacts on human health and the health of our environment.

Carson was attacked by the chemical industry and some in government as an alarmist, but courageously spoke out to remind us that we are a vulnerable part of the natural world subject to the same damage as the rest of the ecosystem. Testifying before Congress in 1963, Carson called for new policies to protect human health and the environment.

Silent Spring is considered by many to have been the catalyst for a wide spread environmentalism movement in the western world. 

“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature—the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.” Rachel Carson.

The Trimates (Biruté Galdikas 1946 -, Dian Fossey 1932 – 1985, Jane Goodall 1934 – )

Growing up I had all the usual pictures on my wall, Leonardo Di Caprio, Orlando Bloom, Blink 182 and of course the Trimates. Okay, maybe the Trimates were not so usual for a 14 year old girl to have on her wall, but to me these women were rock stars.

Dian Fossey, Jane Goodhall and Biruté Galdikas were all selected by Louis Leakey, a Kenyan paleoanthropologist and archaeologist who wanted to promote the field research of primates in their own habitats. The three women went onto become household names for their important scholarly work in the field of primatology as well as their work in the conservation of these species.

For over four decades Dr. Biruté Mary Galdikas has studied and worked closely with the orangutans of Indonesian Borneo in their natural habitat, and is today the world’s foremost authority on the orangutan. At the age of 71 she is still hugely active and you can follow her work on twitter @DrBirute 

Dian Fossey did not plan to be a primatologists but her love of African nature and a chance meeting with Louis Leakey led to her setting up a small research outpost in Rwanda: the Karisoke Research Center. Fellow gorilla conservationist Ian Redmond , said of Fossey, that it was her shy inhibited nature that led to the habituation of the gorillas that they were studying. He called her method of habituation a gift to the world and it is still used today in gorilla observations. However, Dian was also combative and her conflict with the government, poachers and other conservationists grew to the point of isolation. In 1985 she was murdered, and her murder is still unsolved to this day. Her career is controversial but she was always a fierce advocate for the gorillas.

Jane Goodhall was the first of the Trimates and in 1960, she travelled from England to Tanzania and entered the little known world of wild chimpanzees. She won the trust of these initially shy creatures and opened a window into their sometimes strange and often familiar seeming lives. Jane is still working today, mobilising action on behalf of the endangered chimpanzees and all wildlife species. The Jane Goodall Institute works to protect the famous chimpanzees of Gombe National Park in Tanzania, but recognizes this can’t be accomplished without a holistic approach that addresses the real needs of local people. Their conservation efforts include sustainable development programmes that engage communities as true partners.

“The environment, after all, is where we all meet, where we all have a mutual interest.  It is one thing that all of us share.  It is not only a mirror of ourselves, but a focusing lens on what we can become.” Jane Goodall

Wangari Maathai  (1940 – 2011)

Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and author of Unbowed, Wangari Maathai was the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree, and became chair of the Department of Veterinary Anatomy and an associate professor in 1976 and 1977 respectively, being the first woman to attain those positions in the region.

I first became aware of Wangari when a friend lent me Unbowed, telling me ‘you have to read this.’ It took me a while to get around to reading it, but when I did, it stuck with me for a long time. Unbowed is a memoir of Wangari’s life and tells of her passion and integrity, and the journey she went on to see planting trees as a way to empower local communities. She founded the The Green Belt Movement in Kenya and wrote with key insight on how to galvanize grass root movements into positive, holistic and sustainable action.

Wangari Maathai was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. The Norwegian Nobel Committee noted Professor Maathai’s contribution to “sustainable development, democracy and peace” and that Professor Maathai “stands at the front of the fight to promote ecologically viable social, economic and cultural development in Kenya and in Africa. She has taken a holistic approach to sustainable development that embraces democracy, human rights and women’s rights in particular. She thinks globally and acts locally.”

“Education, if it means anything, should not take people away from the land, but instill in them even more respect for it, because educated people are in a position to understand what is being lost. The future of the planet concerns all of us, and all of us should do what we can to protect it. As I told the foresters, and the women, you don’t need a diploma to plant a tree.” Wangari Maathai

On this International Women’s Day, spend some time thinking about the women who have inspired you, and those that have forged a way ahead for a more sustainable future for people and planet.


Why water?

Recently I asked the sustainability champions of the University of Kent to pick out one of the Global Goals that resonated with them. A goal that they felt was really important to them, and that they themselves could do something to help make a reality. You can read more about my call to action in our blog post about the Global Goals.

I am not one to issue a challenge without taking it on myself so I looked at the goals and tried to pick one out. Now as a sustainability professional they all resonate with me, so that was not a great starting place for narrowing them down to one. I trained and worked as a wildlife conservationist so found myself drawn to 14 and 15; as an avid gardener and ‘Good Life’ wannabe number 2 seemed a good pick also; I work in Higher Education so number 4 was super important to me; so it was not long before I found myself making a good justification for each of the 17 goals as to what I do and can do for them.

I mulled this over for a few days and then one day it was clear to me. There is one thing I always have on my desk. No matter the time of day, be it my desk at work or home, there is always a glass of water next to me. I tracked how much water I drank in a day, it was close to 3 liters. Then, without getting too graphic when you drink that much water that mean quite a few trips to the loo!

It is something I think a lot of us take for granted, I know I do. I am fortunate to live somewhere where I can access clean water from a tap only a few steps away, and I can go to the loo somewhere safe and clean. This is not the case for everyone.

There is another aspect to this which on this day, March 8th, International Women’s Day makes me think harder about how important access to water is. Figures collated from from a number of sources including the UN and the World Health organisation show that:

  • Women and children spend 125 million hours each day collecting water
  • Women and girls living without a toilet spend 266 million hours each day finding a place to go
  • Women and children bear the primary responsibility for water collection
  • Women and girls often spend up to 6 hours each day collecting water
  • Reductions in time spent collecting water have been found to increase school attendance
  • Globally, 1/3 of all schools lack access to safe water and sanitation
  • Involving women can make water projects 6 to 7 times more effective

I don’t know about you but not being able to access a toilet that is clean, private and safe, especially when on my period sounds frightening and would strip an individual of their dignity. The taboos around menstruation still exist and even in the UK many women will know the dance of hiding sanitary products up their sleeves so they can walk through the office to the loo. Now couple this taboo with schools that do not have anywhere for the disposal of sanitary products, and toilets that only designed for men (urinals). By keeping girls from going to the loo they are not going to remain in school especially as they reach their teenage years, and with the pressure to walk further and further to collect clean drinking water as climate change reduces access to water many girls will miss huge chunks of education.

This is why I have picked Global Goal 6 as my goal to champion.

So, now we know the problem, what can we do?

  • Raise awareness – tell people about this issue
  • Support the Global Goals
  • Support charities that are working on the ground with women where the problem is felt the worst e.g., Water Aid etc
  • Find out what is happening here in the UK – Homeless women rarely have access to clean toilets and sanitary products during menstruation – 
  • Don’t take the access we have to clean water and sanitation for granted!