Sisters of Sustainability: Women Powering Climate Action through Grassroots Networks


Mariana Rojas

Summer Intern

Media Contact

Anne McPherson

Vice President, Global Communications email [email protected]

The Frontlines of Environmental Action

My grandparents spent their lives protecting our land and producing coffee for our community in Armenia, Colombia. As a farmer in the early 1980s, my grandfather was one of the millions of Colombians who worked in the agriculture sector on the frontlines of environmental action and upholding sustainable farming practices. Today, small scale farmers that protect the environment, and provide for their families as my grandparents did, struggle to compete against the highly industrialized farms dominating other major coffee producing countries such as Brazil and Vietnam.

They persist.

Small-scale farms produce 30% of the world’s food on just 11% of its farmland, yet they only receive 1.7% of global climate finance. These farmers are disproportionately affected by climate change, falling victim to crop loss as a result of extreme weather events like droughts, heat waves, and large storms.

Small-scale farms led by women are particularly important. Research has shown that women led agri-businesses are more likely to view climate action or investment as a higher priority. Women’s involvement and leadership in climate initiatives is an important yet under-recognized factor in the fight against climate change.

The Gender and Climate Learning Collaborative launch

On June 29th and 30th, 2023 ICRW held the inaugural Gender and Climate Learning Collaborative launch event at the Rockefeller Brothers Pocantico Center. We brought together leading practitioners, researchers, and donors together for transformative conversations about gender and climate, and to discover how to better support women-led grassroots climate organizations and campaigns. An important aspect of the launch was to highlight the work being done by practitioners in the Global South.

“The case for small-scale farmers” was a phrase I heard echoed several times at the launch. Representatives from Root Capital  and Groots Kenya made the case that investing in women-led agriculture initiatives would lead to better climate outcomes and more sustainable communities. By reclaiming Indigenous and local knowledge in agricultural practices, grassroots women can reassert their agency and participate in more sustainable practices such as minimum tillage and mulching, which preserves soil. Their approach focuses on land conversation, efficient water and energy use, and biodiversity.

Current Challenges and Gaps

Today, just 0.2% of overseas funding goes to women-led climate initiatives. For those working at the intersection of gender and climate, this statistic is seared in our brains because it represents how underfunded women-led climate action remains despite the profound opportunity and possibilities.

Zainab Salbi, founder of Women for Women International and co-founder of Daughters for Earth, shared these powerful words, “We do not need to empower women; women are in their power. What they need is reinforcements. With money, with seats at the table, with celebrations and voices.” Women in the Global South are climate leaders but are often left out of climate conversations because of various barriers to entry including language, financial cost, and physical distance. A historical lack of data about their contributions to the climate movement also perpetuates the narrative that their work is not meaningful or significant.

The lack of data on gender and climate limits our ability to identify, fund and scale solutions. During the launch, practitioners proposed ideas and improvements, but confirmed they needed data to support and validate those suggestions. Data that serves their communities, prioritizes small scale initiatives and is collected by involving the community. The participants shared they often see foreign powers intervening, without stopping to listen and learn from community members.

Participants also noted that data and climate science communications needs to be accessible and engaging. The excessive use of jargon in every climate publication creates barriers for practitioners and limits their ability to interact with the ever-growing pool of climate research.

Climate action communications should be adapted for traditional media outlets, research publications, and social media platforms if we want to shift narratives that label women as victims or saviors and engage new audiences in a more meaningful way.

Women are not heroes or victims, but they are resilient and resourceful.

A Hopeful Future

In 2021, Global Witness designated Colombia as the most dangerous country to be a climate activist. Despite this label, I didn’t have to search hard to find women in my country leading initiatives to improve Colombia’s environment. Women are volunteering to educate children about Colombia’s ecosystem. Women are making their homes more sustainable by installing water tanks and solar panels. Women are running small ecotourism businesses that promote sustainable practices for visitors and locals alike. These are the women that need to be supported and funded.

“There is no sustainable solution without women,” said Anne Gachambi Njuki, member of Groots Kenya.

The climate movement is challenging and often discouraging, but it is women like those in Colombia and those at the launch that give me hope. It is my friends and cousins who choose to study environmental justice in Colombia although it is a dangerous and taboo subject. It is these women who deserve our commitment. It is these women who require data and investment to implement achievable climate solutions.

View photos from the Gender and Climate Learning Collaborative here


This report was written by members of the International Center for Research on Women’s staff based on materials prepared for this meeting and the discussions that took place there. It reflects the views of the authors and not necessarily those of other conference participants or of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, its trustees, or its staff.