Honoring Leading Women in Environmental Fields

Today marks the one hundredth anniversary of International Women’s Day, an event originally conceived of in Copenhagen in 1911 and first honored in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland by way of organized rallies campaigning for women’s rights to work, vote, hold public office and end discrimination.

Events for this year’s celebration stretch across the month of March (officially proclaimed Women’s History Month in the United States on February 28, 2011 by President Obama) and take place all across the globe.  Highlights within the realm of environmental justice include a keynote speech from leading ecofeminist thinker Vandana Shiva at the University of Oregon; multiple screenings of Sisters on the Planet, an Oxfam documentary featuring six women from around the world teaming up to fight climate change;  and a Women, Equality, & the Environment conference in London featuring workshops on seed planting, seed swapping, and do-it-yourself beauty products.

In honor of this year’s International Women’s Day theme – Equal access to education, training and science and technology I thought I’d round up a list of women, local and international, historical and contemporary, who have played an important role in the environmental movement.

  • Vandana Shiva – A self-proclaimed ecofeminist, trained in physics, with a Ph.D in philosophy, Shiva is a woman who wears many hats.  Fields in which Shiva actively campaigns for change include biodiversity, bioethics, and genetic engineering.  During the 1970s Shiva participated in Chipko Andolan, a nonviolent movement comprised mainly of women who circled around trees to prevent their felling.  Working from Delhi, Shiva is founder of Navdanya, a national movement to protect the diversity and integrity of living resources, especially native seed, the promotion of organic farming and fair trade.
  • Wangari Maathai – In 2004, Maathai became the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. She is founder of the Green Belt Movement, a non-profit, grassroots, non-governmental organization based in Kenya and committed to organizing women to plant trees, prevent deforestation, and and stop soil erosion.  Since 1977, the Green Belt Movement has been responsible for planting over 40 millions trees and training over 30,000 women in forestry, food processing, and bee-keeping.  To learn more about Maathai and the Green Belt Movement, check out Krista Tippett’s recently aired conversation with Maathai on her show On Being.
  • Rachel Carson – An American marine biologist and nature writer, in the 1950s Carson turned her interest to conservation and environmental problems caused by synthetic pesticides.  Her book Silent Spring brought environmental concerns to the forefront within the American public.  It’s accredited for having led the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and a nationwide band on DDT and other pesticides.
  • Rachel Hood – Our very own Rachel Hood became executive director of WMEAC in January of 2007.  She was instrumental in the program design and funding for the Turner Gateway Project, a Michigan Cool Cities project. Ms. Hood was key in launching Local First, an initiative to educate Greater Grand Rapids about the value of locally owned business.  She serves on the West Michigan Strategic Alliance Green Infrastructure Task Force, the Lower Grand River Organization of Watershed’s Development Team, the West Michgian Sustainable Business Forum Board, Green Grand Rapids Advisory Committee, the Grand Rapids Community College Sustainability Team, the Greater Grand Rapids Children’s Environmental Health Steering Committee, Grand Rapids Youth Boxing Foundation, Progressive Women’s Alliance Candidate Committee and the Michigan Clean Water Fund Political Action Committee.
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