Former Irish President Mary Robinson spoke to an audience of activists and educators at the Debs Center on the critical role women have to play in combatting global climate change.

Features | Campus

Feminist Forum on Climate Change

by Barbara Rosica
Fall 2019/Winter 2020

On September 20, 2019, the Feminist Forum on Climate Change held its inaugural session at the Debs Center–AUB New York Office. Nearby, the 74th session of the UN General Assembly convened as a historic climate crisis protest by school-age children progressed through the city’s streets led by the young activist Greta Thunberg. Attuned to these events, the Feminist Forum participants wasted no time in getting to the point—the critical role of women in averting the threat of climate change on human survival.

A joint venture of AUB and the Women’s Learning Partnership (WLP), the forum brought together high-level academicians, civic activists, policymakers, and thought leaders from human rights and environmental organizations, interfaith communities, and governmental and non-governmental agencies to initiate a conversation on the connections between climate justice, gender equality, sustainable development, and peace. Speakers focused on the harsh effects of climate change on women and children, people living in poverty, indigenous peoples, and people of color. Scientist Najat Aoun Saliba represented AUB’s research with her collaborative “citizen science” method of involving local communities in university research projects. This initiative gives locals a heightened awareness of—and a stake in—their surroundings and can provide tools on the ground for amelioration.

President Fadlo Khuri opened the forum with a video message that introduced Mary Robinson, the keynote speaker and former president of Ireland. “Ms. Robinson is a fierce champion for climate justice, for those with the least responsibility for causing it and the least resources to combat it,” he said. Robinson noted that women leaders have finally woken up to the urgency of climate justice (a term she prefers to the deceptively benign “climate change”). She asserted that the subject is now on a par with issues related to female disempowerment, violence against women, domestic abuse, sexual harassment, gender inequity, and job discrimination. Not only are women adversely affected by climate change, but they are neglected as a resource. Experts should be seeking out women, who are caregivers and good stewards of their environments, for local knowledge and solutions to the climate crisis.

The forum was deftly moderated by Melann Verveer, executive director of Georgetown’s Institute for Women, Peace and Security. Many at the table referenced solidarity with the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDGs)1 established in 2015 and emphasized their work creating and bringing policy into practice on a local level and forming partnerships to combat climate crisis on a global level.

Ghana’s ambassador to Brazil Abena Busia bemoaned the limitations of modernization, which often provides a higher standard of living at the expense of environmental damage. Her statement that “good is not good enough” resonated with the group of deeply committed activists. The urgency of a time-bomb issue that will potentially affect every aspect of life on earth demands environmental advocacy, especially for marginalized populations who will be the first to suffer the consequences of climate change. The Feminist Forum shed light on why the status quo will not suffice. We can do better.

1. The UN SDGs are a call for action by all countries—poor, rich, and middle-income—to promote prosperity while protecting the environment by 2030.

(L to R) Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland, president and founder of The Mary Robinson Foundation for Climate Justice; Mahnaz Afkhami, founder and president of Women’s Learning Partnership

L to R) Hindou Oumaru Ibrahim, coordinator of the Association of Peul Women and the Autochthonous Peoples of Chad; Bridget Burns, executive director of Women’s Environment and Development Organization