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Essential women in the history of environmentalism

Essential women in the history of environmentalism

By Rosa Martínez Rodríguez

On June 3, 1979, an antinuclear and antimilitarist protest was called in Tudela (Navarra) within the framework of an International Day against Nuclear Energy. Gladys del Estal, a 19-year-old girl, a member of an environmental group from Donostia, attended, who was killed by a shot by the Civil Guard during the harsh repression that was ordered against the concentration.

The 1970s consolidated the environmental movement, and the problem of pollution and environmental degradation began to permeate public opinion. At the end of the decade the German Green Party was founded, with the aspiration of bringing environmentalism into institutional politics. The central figure in this process and in the early years of Die Grünen was Petra Kelly, a leading activist in the anti-nuclear and pacifist movement, she received the Right Livehood Award in 1982 for her “new vision by combining environmentalism, pacifism, social justice and human rights



Also in the 1970s, but without connection to Western activism, the Chipko movement takes place in India to protect the forests of an area of ​​the Himalayas. The climax of this local movement was reached when 27 women confronted forest workers to stop logging by hugging the trees. To this day, there are thousands of activists in the world who anonymously confront the multinationals of energy, mining or food to stop the destruction of their environment.

The environmental fight is the fight against poverty in a good part of the world and millions of people live in their daily lives the consequences of an economic activity that is a predator of resources. And yet violence and repression is what environmental activism faces in many countries: in 2015 185 activists were murdered around the world, breaking a new record.

Threats and violence are part of the strategy to suppress activism. One of the examples that had the most media coverage was the murder of Berta Cáceres, the woman who organized the Lenca people in Honduras against the construction of a dam. Yet impunity and misinformation remain the norm in environmental conflicts that dot the world.


If we talk about environmental activism with a woman's name, we cannot stop naming Wangari Maathai, the “Woman-Tree”, Nobel Peace Prize winner in 2005 and promoter of the “Green Belt” project, which employing women has managed to plant more than 40 million trees. Or Vandana Shiva, an activist for biodiversity in agriculture and food sovereignty, who is also a benchmark for ecofeminism. His commitment to the empowerment and rights of peasant women as the path to sustainable agriculture.


However, public and social recognition reaches very few activists. Most celebrate their victories or ruminate on their defeats anonymously. The ignorance of the figures of reference of the environmental movement is even greater than in other causes, and that, despite the fact that as a society we owe great advances in our rights to environmental activism. If we also talk about women, the invisibility and less recognition is double, as it happens in any field of activity.

It is the moment to recognize the contribution of women to the fight for the environment and the rights linked to it, but it is also the moment to encourage environmental activism as part of the global struggles that protect people and the planet. Although much progress has been made, the causes that consolidated the environmental movement are still there and current: the fight against nuclear, the principle of non-violence, environmental degradation, climate change.

Integrating the environmental approach into our claims and policies is still more necessary than ever, also in our towns and cities. Let us understand, how those who were pioneers of the environmental struggle in the Spanish transition and how local communities around the world understand it daily that the struggle for democracy, rights and freedoms are linked to respect and care for the environment and of our natural resources.

* Co-spokesperson of EQUO and Deputy of Unidos Podemos

Cover photo: Wangari Maathai

Equo Cordoba


Video: History of. Environmentalism (May 2021).