International Women’s Day 2022
As part of our work recognising International Women’s Day this year, we have been researching women who have made an impact in the field of the environment, conservation and nature.
Some of those women may be familiar to you, others you may not have heard of, but however well known, each of them have played their part in raising awareness of the natural environment in which we live and how we can protect the planet for ourselves and future generations.
Anna Botsford Comstock
Growing up on her parents’ farm in New York, Anna Botsford Comstock developed an appreciation for the wonder and beauty of the natural world. Later she turned to illustrating the insects that she and her husband studied, drawing thousands of detailed pictures, first for her husband’s books and then for books they wrote together.
She completed a degree in natural history in 1873 and started writing her own books, including The Handbook of Nature Study which is still considered a standard text book today. She became the first female professor at Cornell University. Comstock is also famous for designing the first outdoor nature studies programme for children.
Like many girls in Gambia, Isatou Ceesay was forced to drop out of school at a young age — but that didn’t mean she was oblivious to the environmental challenges around her.
The colourful plastic bags that she used to admire were now rubbish all over her village, injuring livestock, helping mosquitoes breed, and killing plants… and unlike the woven baskets her community was used to, they never decomposed. So in 1997, Ceesay founded the Njau Recycling and Income Generation Group. Women collect the recyclable materials and bring them to a centre where they separate out the plastics and upcycle them into bags, mats, purses, and more.
The project was recently recognised as an official community-based organisation in the Gambia, now referred to as the Njau Recycling and Income Generation Group (NRIGG). Today, Ceesay works with more than 11,00 people and NRIGG is based in four separate communities across The Gambia.
This ground breaking American marine biologist and oceanographer, who was Time Magazine’s first Hero of the Planet in 1998, is known by her fans as the Sturgeon General! Sylvia Earle set a women’s depth record for suit diving and has helped design research submarines, but she is most well known for her advocacy for protecting Earth’s oceans. In 2008 she founded Mission Blue, a non-profit dedicated to creating protected marine preserves around the world. Her writing is increasing public awareness of the ecological importance of the ocean, which she calls “the blue heart of the planet”.
Berta Isabel Caceres Flores
Berta Flores was a prominent environmental activist and indigenous leader. She was a member of the Lenca tribe in Honduras who understand the value of a close relationship with the natural world. She participated in many campaigns to fight against large corporations exploiting the natural resources for profit at the expense of local indigenous people. For one such campaign, preventing the building of a dam at the Rio Gualcarque she won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize. Sadly, one campaign led to her assassination organised by one of the companies she fought against. Her death was one of many in Honduras attributed to the victim’s involvement in environmental campaigns.
‘When we plant trees, we plant the seeds of peace and hope’
Wangari Maathai who grew up on a farm in Kenya became the first East African women to earn a doctorate degree and eventually the first African female to win a Nobel Peace Prize.
Her work as an environmentalist and belief in democracy and sustainable development led her to begin the ‘Green Belt Movement’ a community tree planting initiative. Although she died in 2011 the Green Belt Movement continues to this day and is now thought to have led to as many as 50million trees being planted in Kenya.
Rachel Carson was a marine biologist whose, her interest in conservation is considered by many to have led the way in modern environmentalism. Her most famous work is a book called Silent Spring in which she questions the right humans often assume themselves to have to gain mastery over nature.
In particular she was concerned about the use of pesticides and the devastating environmental problems they cause especially declining bird populations. Although the chemical industry tried to discredit her as an hysterical female the work contributed to a change in US pesticide policy including a complete ban on some of the most harmful chemicals.