Women Artists and Activists Speak Out at the Global Climate Action Summit

As reported by the United Nations, women are disproportionately burdened by climate change. From increased risk of becoming refugees to the struggles of finding water in a warming world, women are some of the first to suffer from carbon emissions, yet many of us are also on the frontlines of the fight. 


From diplomats to dancers, painters to prime ministers, the Global Climate Action Summit last week in San Francisco brought together women leaders from almost every walk of life. Famed primatologist Jane Goodall spoke powerfully about the importance of listening to indigenous voices, as well as youth initiatives like her Roots and Shoots program. “Honestly, we’ve never needed young people to help us protect wildlife more than we do now,” she told me via Twitter.

Mirian Cisneros, president of the Pueblo of Sarayaku, Ecuador, similarly stressed the importance of indigenous people and youth in carrying the fight forward. For almost forty years, the women of Sarayaku have fought against fossil fuel extraction and other threats to their territory.

The women are an important pillar of our community,” she told me at an art exhibition during the summit. “All this work of fighting and defending our territory is from the women… We have an intimate relationship, one could say, with Mother Earth.”



Monica Jahan Bose, an artist, activist, and environmental lawyer also exhibiting at the Women Leaders in Global Climate Action event, described the positive energy in the room as palpable. Her “Storytelling With Saris” project seeks to connect Californians and others across the U.S. and Europe with women battling climate change in Bangladesh. In collaboration with non-profit Samhati, she seeks to empower citizens across the world to act on climate change, and make personal pledges to reduce their carbon footprint.


There’s still a lot of work to be done to ensure that all women have a voice in this fight, but it was so inspiring to me to see that so many are refusing to be silent. Although indigenous women especially often lack the voice in international politics that they deserve, groundbreaking initiatives like the Living Forest Proposal show that change is still possible. And, from the women’s empowerment efforts of the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves to the vital UN advocacy work of Mirian Cisneros and other affiliates of Amazon Watch, women’s voices have time and again been shown as crucial to combatting the climate crisis. As was said near the close of the art show, we are not drowning – we are thriving. “It will make us stronger every day to defend our territories,” Ms. Cisneros told me. “It’s everything – and because of this we fight for it.”

About the Author: 

Robin Happel is a guest writer for the United Nations Association of the USA, selected from a competitive pool of applicants to serve as a UNA-USA 2018 Global Climate Action Summit Fellow. To learn more about UNA-USA fellowships and opportunities, subscribe to our mailing list

About the Summit: 

The Global Climate Action Summit will bring leaders and people together from around the world to “Take Ambition to the Next Level.” It will be a moment to celebrate the extraordinary achievements of states, regions, cities, companies, investors and citizens with respect to climate action. It will also be a launchpad for deeper worldwide commitments and accelerated action from countries—supported by all sectors of society—that can put the globe on track to prevent dangerous climate change and realize the historic Paris Agreement. To relive the action, watch recorded sessions and behind-the-scenes interviews from the recorded livestream