Today, we know Rachel Carson’s 1962 book Silent Spring as a pivotal text in the establishment of the western environmental movement. It’s easy to forget that her decision to confront the common knowledge of the day was an act of courage.
Rachel was mercilessly attacked by the chemical industry, the press, and even fellow colleagues in the federal government for her meticulous research on the impacts of pesticides. They called her “a priestess of nature,” a “hysterical woman,” and a member of a mystical cult. Monsanto printed thousands of brochures mocking her book. After a speaking event in which she appeared using a cane (terminal cancer would soon take her life), a local paper called her a “middle-aged, arthritis-crippled spinster.”
Even today, women environmentalists must endure gender-based attacks on their character, their expertise, and sometimes even their lives. Women climate scientists regularly face sexual harassment and activists around the world have been threatened or killed for defending the environment and their communities. On top of this, women are systematically denied management of natural resources globally despite being disproportionately affected by their degradation.
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The Intersection of Gender Equality and Environmental Protection
Gender equality and environmental protection may seem like separate issues, but they aren’t. Elevating more women leaders in government, businesses, and civil society is absolutely essential if we’re to live sustainably on this planet. Legislatures with more women pass better environmental policies. Women’s education and reproductive rights curtail population growth. Their knowledge of the land improves community food security and stewardship. The list goes on.
At Rachel’s Network, empowering women environmental leaders is baked into our mission. As a funder’s network, we carry on Rachel Carson’s work by both fighting the forces profiting from the destruction of nature, and by lifting up a new generation of brave environmental leaders like her.
Knowing that women of color face even greater barriers in their careers, we launched a new project in 2019: the Catalyst Award. The award will provide up to five women of color annually who are bravely leading environmental initiatives across the U.S. with mentorship and networking opportunities, recognition, and a $10,000 prize. We’ll be announcing the first group of winners in October 2019.
This project builds on our fellowship program with Ashoka that has supported innovative social entrepreneurs like Angelou Ezeilo and Janelle Orsi since 2014. These women are ensuring that the conservation movement reflects the voices of a younger, more diverse generation, and that communities can develop legal protections for the grassroots-led sharing economy.
In a time when most legislatures barely achieve 24 percent representation for women, we’re also fighting for gender equality in policymaking bodies. Our report When Women Lead shows that women in Congress are far more likely to vote for environmental protections than their male counterparts. That’s why we partnered with the Women, Food and Agriculture Network’s (WFAN) Plate to Politics program to help rural women access the leadership training and networks to advance their political careers, and why we co-sponsored a women’s candidate training after the People’s Climate March. Our 501(c)4, Rachel’s Action Network endorses a slate of women candidates strong on the environment each election season.
“In nature, nothing exists alone,” wrote Rachel in Silent Spring. The funders in our network believe that working collectively achieves better results than if we worked individually – we learn more, support each other’s successes, and identify effective solutions. We’ve seen firsthand in our own network the power of women to collaborate for change. For the planet and our future, we need to uplift even more women. We hope you will join us.
Original contribution by Erica Flock, Communications Manager at Rachel’s Network, a community of women at the intersection of environmental advocacy, philanthropy, and leadership.
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