Ranked alphabetically, here is a list of eight notable women from India and the world who have consistently worked for the betterment of our planet. Celebrating this women’s day we thank these strong women for their spirit and perseverance, and hope that many young readers find these accounts aspirational and inspiring.
Ellen Churchill Semple: Environmental Determinism (This was a geography optional question in UPSC mains 2014)
Women’s day all about acknowledging the effort of women in everyday life. Therefore, we may perhaps begin with Semple for her constant effort for asserting, “Man is a product of the earth’s surface. This means not merely that he is a child of the earth, dust of her dust; but that the earth has mothered him, fed him, set him tasks, directed his thoughts, confronted him with difficulties that have strengthened his body and sharpened his wits, given him his problems of navigation or irrigation, and at the same time whispered hints for their solution”. These golden words were in the opening passage of her pivotal literary work, ‘Influence of Geographic Environment’. With this she established herself as founder of environmental determinism, which became an important school of geographical thought advocating nature supremacy over mankind.
Gaura Devi – Mother of Chipko movement
Everyone is familiar about Sunderlal Bahuguna’s Chipko movement. But, very few know about the women behind this movement which first started way back in 1974 under the leadership of Gauri Devi. She encouraged women to hug trees and prevent their cutting. She was the head of the Mahila Mangal Dal at the Reni village. The day loggers came to cut trees, Gauri Devi led 27 women to confront them. She initially tried to talk to them, but soon the loggers resorted to abuse and threats. The women thus decided to hug the trees to stop them from being felled. They guarded the trees all night until the lumbermen surrendered and left. News of the movement soon spread to neighbouring villages and people joined in. Gaura Devi’s effort to save her forests was laudable and should always find a place on the occasion of women’s day celebrations.
Jane Goodall – Foremost ape expert
The common prejudice about female scientists being fragile and emotional about fieldwork is very prevalent – but Jane Goodall became the first exception.This British primatologist and her rigorous 55 yearlong study on the wild chimpanzees in Gomber stream National Park in Tanzania set a different trend for women environmentalists. She is perhaps the world’s foremost expert on chimpanzees and is a passionate advocate for animal welfare and conservation. Women’s day celebration would be incomplete without recognizing her efforts.
Kate Sessions: The Tree Lady
Kate session was the first women to graduate from University of California with a science degree. However, seeing that San Diego was indeed a very dry city devoid of plant life, she began a movement that markedly changed the city’s landscape. After starting her horticultural career with a nursery in 1885, she managed to lease 30 acres of land in City Park (now called Balboa Park) in exchange for planting 100 trees a year in the barren park, and 300 trees a year in the rest of San Diego. Today, her gardens and parks are found throughout the City, and Sessions is known as ‘the Mother of Balboa Park’. Her pioneering effort later got her the name Tree Lady this women’s day finds special mention.
Medha Patkar: Narmada Bachao Andolan
This women’s day special list would be incomplete if we don’t mention the name of Medha Patkar, a well known public figure and avid environmentalist recognized world over for her active role in the Narmada BachaoAndolan (NBA), which became a powerful movement against the construction of a large dam on the Narmada River. The proposed multi crore project would have displaced more than 320,000 people. But, because of her consistent effort the authorities gave in, saving the livelihood of thousands of people.The movement is however still on and has gathered a lot is support from various quarters.
Rachel Carson: Silent spring
This American marine biologist stepped into the limelight with her literary work Silent Spring. Through this work, she highlighted the dangers of indiscriminate use of synthetic pesticides. Despite harsh criticism from the chemical industries, she stood strong. Even after Carson’s death, her book fueled public interest in environmental and public health issues and, within a few years, the Nixon Administration formed the Environmental Protection Agency. ‘Silent Spring’ is widely considered one of the twentieth century’s most influential works of non-fiction. Carson’s work for the betterment of environment is a must mention on women’s day.
Vandana Shiva: Organic farming
In order to boost traditional farming practices and empower women, Vandana Shiva, a Delhi based scholar and environmentalist led a campaign to promote traditional local farming practices over uniform solutions. She believes that supporting small, women-run farms can be the key to creating environmentally sustainable food sources that also provide economic growth. Protecting the Earth, she says, is simply a matter of recognizing our place within it. Her progressive thinking and hardwork must be acknowledged on women’s day.
Wangari Maathai – first African laureate
Last but not the least women’s day celebration would be incomplete without mentioning of first African laureate – Wangari Maathai. She founded the green belt movement aimed to train Kenyan women in planting new trees in deforested areas and sustainably earning an income from the land. She has trained more than 30,000 women and pulled them out of the poverty trap. The movement has seen over over 51 million trees planted. For her commitment towards environmental conservation and the advancement of women’s rights, Maathai received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004, the first African woman ever to receive the award.
Women are contributing in every sphere of life and environment conservation and development is not an exception. These remarkable women environmentalist and nature lover testifies that women can play a crucial role in making our planet livable. It is thus important that their efforts are acknowledged as part of our women’s day celebrations.