SOFT&GREEN Insights

Women at the forefront of sustainability

How many people know that Gro Harlem Brundtland, from whom the report “Our Common Future” took its name, is a woman? She graduated in medicine from the University of Oslo and was the first female Prime Minister of Norway. Brundtland combined her commitment to defending women’s rights with her commitment to the environment and in aid of underdeveloped countries. In 1987, as head of the UN Commission on Environment and Development, she compiled the document known as the “Brundtland Report“, which redefined the concepts of the compatibility and sustainability of economic development, as well as introducing the concept of ‘sustainable development’ for the first time.

Today, everyone knows Greta Thunberg, but who remembers Severn Cullis-Suzuki? She became famous in 1992 when, at just 12 years old, she silenced world leaders gathered in Rio de Janeiro for the United Nations Earth Summit with a speech lasting just over six minutes. The idea of attending the meeting came to her that same year during a meeting of the Environmental Children’s Organization (ECO), an association she had founded three years earlier for children interested in raising awareness about environmental issues among their peers. To participate in the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, she collected funds to pay for the trip. Today, Severn Cullis-Suzuki is an environmental activist, speaker and TV host.

Does anyone remember the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, in 2004, for “her contribution to the causes of sustainable development, democracy and peace”? Wangari Muta Maathai, who died in 2011, was born in Kenya in 1940 when the country was still a British colony. In 1966, she became the first woman from Central Africa to graduate in biology from the University of Pittsburgh thanks to the “Kennedy Airlift” programme (which provided scholarships to the best African students). In 1971, she became the first Kenyan woman to obtain a doctorate and become an associate professor. She organised the fight for female university workers to receive an acceptable wage, was a member of the Red Cross, the National Council of Women in Kenya and, as a university representative, joined the Environmental Liaison Centre International (ELCI), which promotes the participation of non-governmental organisations in the United Nations Environment Programme. In 1977, she founded the Green Belt Movement (GBM), a non-governmental organisation which in the 1990s launched a strong campaign to raise awareness among communities, and especially amongst women, of the problems of nature and deforestation. Since it was founded, the organisation has planted and facilitated the growth of more than 45 million trees.