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Why sexism hurts the climate

By Fátima González Torres (MA in European Interdisciplinary Studies– Voltaire Promotion)



This article is an adapted version of the original text written by the same author for Ecosia’s blog at blog.ecosia.org. All credits for the pictures go to Ecosia. Opinions are the author’s own and don’t necessarily represent that of Ecosia’s.


Last year the world saw yet another leader come to power who is known for his openly misogynistic views (not to mention his homophobic and even racist comments).

The election of Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil is generally problematic for his ambiguous position on protecting the Amazon. In a country that holds almost half of the world’s rainforests and that is home to one in every 10 existing species of plants and animals, this is unsettling.

A sexist president leading the world’s fourth biggest democracy is not just bad news for women’s rights globally. It is also a major problem for the environment.


I am the content marketing lead at Ecosia, the search engine that plants trees. Just like Google, Ecosia earns money through ads. The benefits of that revenue are then invested at a hundred percent into tree-planting projects around the world. As one of the first members of the Ecosia team, I have visited many of our partner organisations to date. And in every single one of our tree-planting projects I have seen the same pattern. Women are indispensable for any climate solution that aims at being complete, durable and overall successful.


Brazil is no exception. I first visited Copaiba, one of Ecosia’s tree-planting project in that country, way before Bolsonaro came to power. Back then the women of Copaiba already underlined how machismo has been an underlying hurdle in their environmental efforts since they founded their tree-planting institution.




As a female-led organisation, two of its founders, Ana Paula and Flavia, have learned two things. Firstly, that it takes a long time for a community to become environmentally aware.

Secondly, that women are more likely to empathise with the environmental cause, yet they are less likely to hold a significant position once environmental awareness has reached the most obstinate of the farmers.


After more than ten years, it is still “very difficult [to be a women’s cooperative in Brazil]. Because most of the time, landowners are men. So we need to talk to their wives to explain to them what Copaiba plans to do on their property”, Ana Paula says. Having coffee with the women and explaining to them the overall benefits of trees is often the decisive move to gain access to private land. “There is a huge problem of machismo”, Ana Paula told us. When it comes to land restoration the women at Copaiba are the experts. “Sometimes I have to explain to them how a machine works. They are very defensive about this.” As Ana Paula puts it, “many men don’t want to accept that a woman is explaining something to them”.




However, the collaboration of women is crucial for a project’s success. In most of our reforestation projects we’ve seen that women tend to do most of the work, both in terms of tree-planting and taking care of their family.


Nevertheless, in many cases women still depend on their husbands to make deals or even earn a salary. In our project in Ghana we learned that in a women’s collective earning more money than the individual husbands, the wives still had to hand over the revenue to them. That family income was mostly spent on recreational activities.


Our tree-planting partners in Burkina Faso, who observed this tendency, turned things around. Now it’s the women that are trusted with the investment for the reforestation activities.


In other words, more often than not, trusting women with funds aimed at making long-lasting environmental change results in that money being used more efficiently for the planned purposes.


The women invest any further benefits - for instance, from selling fruits and vegetables in the markets - into their own health and that of their family. They choose to support the building of schools and wells or anything that could bring their community forward, like here in Lilengo.



There is no doubt that at Ecosia we have met just as many inspiring men that are bringing the climate cause further. Like Moses in Uganda, Saydou in Burkina Faso, Severino in Brazil or Fred in England, to name but a few.


Yet every project often comes down to women’s perseverance and their seemingly inexhaustible empathy to complete any environmental effort. “Sometimes I feel I need to change the way I speak to explain to [male landowners] that we share a common goal that will benefit us all”, Ana Paula says.


As our tree-planting partners in Peru once put it to me: the woman has a triple role. She works at home, she plants trees and then she harvests those crops. Yet she is invisible. If all rural women in the world had the economical possibility to strike, the environment would suffer.

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