In honor of Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day, we’re celebrating three Goldman Prize winners who’ve made formidable contributions to the fight against climate change.
These three women, each of whom sought to protect the environment in different ways, are a powerful reminder that climate change isn’t a problem with a single solution. There are innumerable ways to make meaningful change—and each one of them counts.
1. Makoma Lekalakala (South Africa, 2018)
“If you check the history, you realize that women are the custodians of conserving the environment.” – Makoma Lekalakala
A lifelong activist, Makoma Lekalakala has dedicated herself to mobilizing South Africans around environmental issues—especially clean energy. In 2014, when Makoma learned about the South African government’s secret deal with Russia to build upwards of eight nuclear power plants in South Africa, she took a grassroots approach to stopping the deal.
In addition to producing tens of thousands of pounds of radioactive waste, these nuclear power plants would raise the temperature of the ocean, harm marine life, and put the area at risk of a nuclear accident. Together with activist Liz McDaid, Makoma organized local marches and educated communities around the country on the environmental, economic, and health impacts of the deal.
As a result of her efforts, in April 2017, the Western Cape High Court ruled that the $76 billion nuclear deal was unconstitutional, which put an end to the project and set a precedent for similar projects going forward.
2. Lucie Pinson (France, 2020)
“Finance is an amazing tool for change because behind all projects, you will find a bank and you will find an insurer.” – Lucie Pinson
Activist Lucie Pinson took a big-picture approach to tackling climate change. While attending college in South Africa, Lucie began learning about coal power plants and their devastating consequences for the environment. When she discovered that French banks and insurance companies played an integral role in financing and supporting coal projects across the globe, she decided to direct her efforts toward stopping them.
Lucie launched a media campaign to pressure French banking institutions into cutting their coal power funding, collaborated with NGOs to organize demonstrations, and held workshops and conferences to educate French citizens on coal power.
In 2017, thanks to Lucie’s tireless work, French banks agreed to stop financing new coal projects altogether. French insurance companies then followed suit, deciding to end insurance coverage for new coal projects.
3. Nemonte Nenquimo (Ecuador, 2020)
“The whole world needs to stop and think about who we are listening to and what we are leaving for future generations. I invite you to stop for a moment to listen to the voices of Indigenous women.” – Nemonte Nenquimo
Nemonte Nenquimo, an Indigenous Waorani woman and environmental leader, has made it her life’s mission to protect her ancestral territory, environment, and culture. In 2018, Ecuador’s Minister of Hydrocarbons announced a plan to auction off seven million acres of Amazon rainforest for the purpose of oil extraction. The areas in question were located on the titled land of seven different Indigenous nations.
To fight against the land auctions—and push for conservation of her homeland—Nemonte took a multi-pronged approach involving community mobilization and global awareness. She held regional assemblies, rallied people around the world to sign a petition against the oil industry, and launched a digital campaign to protest the auctions. Nemonte also helped Indigenous communities install rainwater harvesting systems and solar panels to avoid having to take money from oil companies.
Her efforts eventually brought the case to court and helped protect 500,000 acres of Amazon rainforest and Indigenous land from oil extraction, setting a precedent for Indigenous land conservation in the region.
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