Happy International Women's Day! At the dawn of the 20th century, activists at the second International Conference of Working Women gathered in Copenhagen and approved the adoption of March 8 as an annual day to campaign for women’s rights "to work, vote, be trained, to hold public office and end discrimination." Tragically, on March 25, 1911 – less than a week later – the notorious Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City drew tremendous attention to women’s and workers’ rights issues, inspiring the work of at least one future US Secretary of Labor, Frances Perkins. (Such tragic fires still take place all too regularly in the garment industry today – see Bangladesh this January.)
But International Women's Day never caught on widely in the US. It's not enshrined among our federal holidays as it is in many other countries, particularly in Russia and countries that were a part of the former Soviet Union. (A workers' rights day likely had a bit too Socialist a ring for comfort here.) That said, this week we've seen a thought-provoking piece on the feminization of farming in the New York Times which should bring further awareness to the reality that women in the developing world make up more than half of the agricultural workforce and providers of unpaid labor. We also cheered Food Tank’s list of seven women working to change our food system (particular props to our Hero and friend, Foodopoly author Wenonah Hauter!).
Today we're happy to recognize some noteworthy advocates, programs and projects around the world whose mission and achievements improve the lives of women as well as our whole planet's well-being.
Women’s Farm and Agriculture Network
The Women's Farm and Agriculture Network is centered in Iowa, with a mission "to link and empower women to build food systems and communities that are healthy, just, sustainable, and that promote environmental integrity." WFAN's members include women from throughout the US and several other countries – thanks to online resources, they can help gather the community of women involved in sustainable agriculture anytime, anywhere to share information and build connections.
For women seeking reclamation following settlement of a suit against the USDA for discrimination against women and Hispanic farmers in making or servicing farm loans in the 80s and 90s, there is a link to file a claim with the government (due by March 25, 2013), important as the settlement is not being handled on a class-action basis. According to some farmers, in fact, the pattern of discrimination has continued apace during the process. WFAN also offers leadership development programs and hosts annual gatherings (this year on November 6-8, 2013 in Des Moines). Here's to harnessing the power of women farmers and ranchers, worldwide.
Solar Sister: "The Avon of Clean Energy"
Solar Sister is run exclusively by women and headquartered in Uganda, where it's mostly women who spend precious time and money procuring the kerosene lamp oil relied upon for indoor light. Already, Solar Sister has distributed over 32,000 solar-powered lamps. "Distributed" is too simple, really; the lamps are sold by women to other women as a way to save time, money and carbon. The micro-consignment model works just like Avon; it's a business in a bag, spreading to Nigeria and Tanzania as we speak. (Watch this video to meet some of their dynamic saleswomen.) The program creates entrepreneurs who can earn money for their kids' school fees or use for other necessities. Thanks to solar lamps, kids can do their homework at night regardless of whether there is power. Given that one of the priorities of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is to develop sustainable energy programs to alleviate energy poverty, it's terrific to see an effective grassroots-built organization taking on the challenge while empowering communities in many ways.
Women Protest Mountaintop Removal in West Virginia
Last Memorial Day, a group of women gathered at the statehouse in Charleston, West Virginia to peacefully protest – again- the practice of mountaintop removal in coal country. Marilyn Mullens, a former Army nurse, had the dream idea which she took to Facebook and organized hundreds of other supporters to join her in shaving her head as "a silent tribute to the 500 mountains, one million acres of forest, thousands of miles of headwater streams and thousands of communities wiped off the map by mountaintop removal coal mining." In a moving video interview with the Sierra Club, Mullens discusses her personal relationship with the mountains and desire to protect the environment for her children and future generations to enjoy and foster. In June 6, 2012, she and other activists went to Washington, DC, joined by new supporters who shaved their heads on Capitol Hill. As of today, the fight to stop mountaintop removal continues, including creative and passionate groups of women.
Needless to say, there are powerful examples, past and present, of women's environmental advocacy too numerous to include here. Our small selection – viewed through the lens of food, water and energy issues here at GRACE – include those that I found particularly creative and inspiring. We'd love to hear about yours on this International Women's Day – and beyond!