#SheLeadsInCrisis: Young climate leaders speak out

A protest by youth climate activists in Bangladesh.

This Earth Day, we look to five young female climate leaders who are on the frontlines of the climate emergency.

Climate change could push an additional 132 million people into poverty by 2030. Women are routinely on the frontlines of the climate emergency and are 80 percent of people displaced by climate change.

Yet women are still marginalised from making decisions on how to respond to or solve the climate crisis.

At CARE, we stand with women and girls on the frontlines of the climate emergency.

We believe that, if we’re going to tackle the climate catastrophe, we must prioritise women and girls – and take our lead from the inspirational, powerful young women around the world who are working on mitigation and adaptation measures, or towards solutions and societal change.


A beach clean-up in Tonga
A beach clean-up in Tonga

Ana Malia Falemaka from Tonga: “I’ve seen the dramatic change of our climate”

To be honest, I didn’t open my eyes to the realities of climate change here in Tonga until back in 2018, when the Category 5 Tropical Cyclone Gita destroyed my home island kingdom, leaving people without houses to live in and myself without a classroom to study in.

It was from there that I finally realised how serious the climate crisis issue was and how important it was to play my role in helping to reduce those effects from affecting Tonga.

I started involving myself in various programmes and activities such as community and youth clean-ups in our local beaches and raising awareness in social media platforms with a climate strike takeover. Also utilising spaces and taking the opportunity to attend forums and workshops in which I can express my opinions and represent the voices of young people like myself regarding the issue of climate change. As part of the future generation of this world, I represent the millions of voices of our young people in saying:

We can no longer ignore the fact that our world and all living things in it are moving into extinction due to the effects of climate change. Please don’t take our future away from us but rather let us all work together, hand in hand, to help create a much safer and healthier environment for not only us humans but all living things on Earth.

I’ve also started reaching out to provide beneficial programmes of empowerment for kids, and luckily, I have been able to secure a program with our climate change department here in Tonga for the children in the village to learn about the reality of the climate crisis. Hopefully we’ll be able to do some things with the kids that can help reduce the effects of climate change. I also volunteer to be a teacher’s aid at my school whenever I am on school break.

I want to be able to hopefully set an example to my sisters and peers that if I can join the fight against climate change, then they can too. As well as being able to show that it is possible for a young Tongan woman to share her voice and insights on global crisis like this!

We cannot always rely on our elders and leaders to do everything for us. It is our future at stake here and we must take on our roles and play our part to help fight it.

Ana Malia Falemaka is an 18-year-old activist who has represented the Talitha Project (an NGO for young women) and Tonga on panels and discussion forums at international and regional conferences.


Dircia Sarmento Belo
Dircia Sarmento Belo

Dircia Sarmento Belo from Timor-Leste: “We must believe in ourselves”

In my childhood, my happiness was being able to go to the river to swim and catch fish, or to the paddy field where I also went for catching catfish, crabs and shrimp.

However, this is something that we are no longer doing today. The river is vanished, the water is dried out, and it’s challenging for us to predict the weather for agricultural purposes.

So, what causes the changes? Reflecting on the changes in my country today, I feel the call to take action and want to work for climate justice.

In 2019, I initiated a project called ‘How can art influence environmental behaviour’. We used the Challenge Prize approach to find creative, influential, and powerful arts, especially performing theatre and visual art that would be used as tools to raise public awareness on the environmental problem. This trial project was a great success as most youth groups were interested to take part as art competitors, and more than 200 people participated in the final competition. After the competition, each group was committed to use the incentive to create impact in their community.

In 2020, I did an online course on Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home to learn about environmental issues and protection from a religious perspective. As a first Timor-Leste Laudato Si Animator, I founded a group of Laudato Si Animators Timor-Leste to inspire and influence more youths to be part of environmental activism in Timor-Leste. Now, we have more than 50 animators.

If you could say one thing to world leaders gathering at the Leaders’ Summit on Climate this Earth Day, what would it be?

Look at the face of someone who just lost their home, then you will understand suffering from their eyes. This is the task of the leader.

In a sentence, what does climate justice look like to you?

We all deserve a healthy environment to live regardless our race, nationality, ages or gender. This is the basic right of a human.

Dircia Sarmento Belo is a youth leader and activist with the Timorese Youth Initiative for Development and Laudato Si Animators Timor-Leste youth groups. She also currently works for UNDP as an environmental consultant on recycling projects.


Juliet Grace Luwedde
Juliet Grace Luwedde

Juliet Grace Luwedde from Uganda: “Let no-one tell you that you can’t do it”

I was 14 years old when I realised I wanted to work for climate justice. I was on a mentorship journey with TEENS Uganda. I was introduced to the concept of food security, [and] the way that climate change affects food production really stood out. It was then that I realised that if I want to contribute to the food value chain, I must address the climate crisis.

The impact that I am most proud of is with my current role with the Media Challenge Initiative, where I am contributing to how journalists report about climate change.

In 2019, we hosted a Media Challenge Expo on the theme ‘Reporting on Climate Change in Uganda and Africa’, and since then the narrative has changed. More media houses in Uganda are paying attention to the subject of climate change and this kind of coverage opens up opportunities to tell more people about what kind of climate action is currently being undertaken, and how individuals can collectively solve issues around climate change.

If you could say one thing to world leaders gathering at the Leaders’ Summit on Climate this Earth Day, what would it be?

Tax fossil fuel companies so that this money can be used to provide financing for climate action initiatives.

Also, pay attention to the work being done by young people through supporting their efforts. Don’t close the doors of engagement in their faces because they have the full potential and passion to protect our planet from the perils of climate change.

What advice would you give other young women who want to work for climate justice?

Start now, let no one tell you that can’t do it. In whatever capacity and with whichever kind of knowledge you have, your contribution to climate justice is equally as important as everyone else’s.

Juliet Grace Luwedde is the Interim Facilitator for the Global Youth Caucus on Desertification and Land (UNCCD) with a particular interest in land management and food security. She is also the Focal Point for the AYICC Uganda Chapter (African Youth Initiative on Climate Change), a co-founder of Friends of The Environment in Uganda and Programs Officer at the Media Challenge Initiative, with an interest and focus on reporting on climate change.


Portia Adu Mensah
Portia Adu Mensah

Portia Adu-Mensah from Ghana: “We must be the voice of change”

In 2019 I got the opportunity to be part of a video documentary done by ActionAid Ghana, which was linked with rising sea levels and how it was impacting girls and young women in that community.

We went to New Town and saw where the rising sea levels had taken out a lot of houses, and the pollution at that level was disastrous. We had to do separation of plastics but also look at the sea defences and encourage youth to speak up and express what we think was the cause, which is climate change.

We helped explain it to them and also how they can help in solving these issues, and also protect the seas, so we had to train them on different levels.

It was an amazing experience for me, and it made me realise they hadn’t heard much about climate change so it had a great impact for them as well.

Another project I’m proud of is empowering university students and grassroots youth to become climate activists. I visited a girls’ schools for a renewable energy project, and it was great to see how the young girls were able to come up with ideas for how we can build our own renewable energy.

Women are mostly affected by climate change. We must stand to protect our environment and be the voice of change.

In a sentence, what does climate justice look like to you?

Reducing growing inequality.

If you could say one thing to world leaders gathering at the Leaders’ Summit on Climate this Earth Day, what would it be?

Women and girls [must be] empowered at the grassroots to be part of decision making and change. Our leaders must empower our grassroots girls with climate skills.

Portia Adu-Mensah is the Founder and CEO of Dream Hunt, a NGO that works in sustainable development and alternative sources of livelihoods, as well as youth inclusion for development and social welfare. She is the National Coordinator of 350 Ghana Reducing Our Carbon.


Shakila Islam
Shakila Islam

Shakila Islam from Bangladesh: “Where is my climate justice?”

I am 26 years old and from the Barishal coastal area of Bangladesh. The main source of income in my family was agriculture, but in 2007 when I was 11 years old, our family was hit by Super Cyclone Sidr, an extreme natural disaster that affected more than 8 million people in my country.

When I moved to a more urban setting, I became involved with some youth organisations and learned that these natural disasters are increasing due to the effects of climate change.

Our communities are facing this type of disaster but we have not made huge contributions to these calamities.

On this basis, I helped found a coastal-led youth movement YouthNet for Climate Justice which is the largest network for running climate advocacy and campaigns.

With YouthNet for Climate Justice, young people have mobilised and are sharing their ideas. Most importantly they have become actors that take climate action. It is vital to invest in the young people of Bangladesh.

The Bangladesh Parliament has declared climate change as a planetary emergency and is focusing more on the conservation of biodiversity, ecology and nature, which was is great landmark advocacy moment that was led by me. The organisation is also working to ensure fair compensation for climate survivors and our youth movement has aligned with Fridays for Future.

Coastal Youth Action Hub is another initiative promoting youth-led innovative solutions and activism. Recently our prime-minister, Sheikh Hasina, said: “We are consciously destroying the very support systems that are keeping us alive. What planet shall we leave for the Greta Thunbergs or those at the Bangladesh Coastal Youth Action Hubs? At COP26 we must not fail them.”

If you could say one thing to world leaders gathering at the Leaders’ Summit on Climate this Earth Day, what would it be?

Climate change isn’t an environmental and development issue. It’s an existential threat.

We must reach negative zero emissions before 2050. Governments in developed countries have a moral responsibility to lead the way and can do this by reducing their greenhouse gas emissions well before 2050. You have the money and technology to do that.

And richer countries should also keep their promise of $100 billion a year to help poorer countries. They didn’t create this crisis but they are suffering most from it.

In a sentence, what does climate justice mean to you?

Where is my climate justice? If you are like me, the answer is there isn’t any. It is time to address this.

Our message is very clear. Without gender equality, no climate justice. Without climate justice, no gender equality.

What advice would you give other young women who want to work for climate justice?

My advice to young women is to learn about science, explore the solution, raise their voice, and lead the process. We are unheard, not voiceless. Our voice and involvement are very crucial to tackle the crisis and build resilience.

Shakila Islam is Vice-Chair of the Protiki Jubo Sangshad (Bangladesh Model Youth Parliament), chief coordinator of YouthNet for Climate Justice, and a founding member of Fridays for Future Bangladesh movement.

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