How We Can Save the World

By Kay Woods
August 15, 2019
Kay Woods, Paula Mazzini
Kay Woods met Brazilian Salvation Army Capt. Paula Mazzini at the 63rd session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women.

Lucky me. I have four friends to help me save the world. They may not even know it. In fact, when I returned from the Commission on the Status of Women in March, my four friends didn’t know what I was talking about. They were excited for me to attend CSW, but it was their interest in listening to my experience after the event that helped me process it and understand how I could apply what I experienced in my community.

There I had been, one of more than 5,000 women (and some men) from 45 countries, focused on making lives fairer, more just, more peaceful and fulfilling, safer for women and girls everywhere. We were from all over the world! Determined, caring, brilliant, creative, strong-minded women and girls, working and walking together toward social justice.

In nine days of work, we could choose from over 400 workshops/forums, each from one to two hours long. The 18 of us in the Presbyterian delegation were advised ahead of time that we would find the schedule very challenging. So true!

It was all I had planned for, imagined, and prepared for. I attended 22 events over nine days, plus a weekend of training. The events were presented by agencies, organizations, clubs like the Girl Scouts and the Sierra Club, American Association of University Women, International Association of Women Medical Doctors, the Salvation Army International, Jewish Women International, Zonta, and many others including artists for climate change, artists for women’s equality, dance troupes, women in the police force, women from labor unions, Native societies and grassroots coalitions on various topics, all related to women’s empowerment.

We weren’t all Presbyterians. Nor were we all Christians. We didn’t even all believe in a God. You know what values linked us? The Golden Rule (and its implied love of self and others). That’s the mantra I took with me. And I met others on the same path. Kind of like the high Sierra hiking paths I traversed as a younger woman—rocky, often narrow, with the end unclear and the map muddied and wrinkled. We carried in our knapsacks the priority theme, which weaves together a number of justice issues:

Social protection systems, access to public services and sustainable infrastructure for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls

When my four friends and I sat down at the table and I began to try to tell them about my experiences at CSW63, the faces and voices and songs of other participants began to crowd my mind. How do you tell about two weeks of such intensity—so much learning; emotions aswirl in halls, conference rooms, forums, cafeterias and dining rooms; so many perspectives?

I recalled the story of Hindou, from the M’bororo nomadic cattle herders in Chad. Her father sent her to school where she learned about climate change and became the storyteller for her tribe. She had thought she was alone but she learned that it is not so.

I heard similar tales from a northern central European child who grew up to tell us about how her traditional wisdoms had seen climate changes evident and are successfully working to adapt. They have seen, just as you and I have, the changes occurring around us, regardless of controversies surrounding the issue.

Somewhere among the young people, and the talk of climate justice and gender equality for women and girls, my focus shifted. I have come to believe that, until we adapt, correct and slow down global climate change, many of the issues considered at the CSW are moot.

As the dust settled and particles separated out by size, as in a jar of sand and water, an overriding layer became evident: the big pebble in the jar, right there on top, is climate change. Climate change disproportionately affects women, children, the aging and those living in poverty.

One of the CSW speakers I heard was Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland, and UN Special Envoy on Climate Change, as well as the former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. I read her book, Climate Justice: Hope, Resilience, and the Fight for a Sustainable Future.

Mary Robinson presents stories of people adapting in the face of climate change, regardless of whether they were part of the cause. My excitement grew as I read her true and truly human stories in her clear, engaging writing. You can listen to her TED Talk entitled “Why climate change is a human rights issue.” Rather than dire scare tactics, it’s the positive stories that motivate people to care for and protect the environment. Yes, our human efforts to slow rising temperatures, to stop wasting resources, and to reduce air and ocean pollutants are in fact beginning to make a difference.

At CSW, I also heard about Wangari Maathai from Kenya, who began planting mango trees, and started the Green Belt Movement after she recognized the interconnectedness of local and global problems such as drought and floods; she enlisted grassroots communities, especially women, to create solutions. Wangari was recognized for her work as an environmental (and social) activist with a Nobel Peace Prize in 2004.

Those 5,000 delegates represent millions of people all working the Golden Rule for women and girls. And working together to adapt to new conditions while successfully moderating global warming and pollution.

I see the Golden Rule being enacted and I don’t have to do it all myself or worry that not enough human power is in gear to move us forward as stewards of our species and our beautiful planet. I see that as women move into a more balanced stewardship position with men, a wonderful force is claiming this space—this is woman’s place. I hear women’s voices singing positive stories about what is working and what can work, and the harmonics are powerful.

I believe the most important and effective thing each of us can do to slow climatic changes is to talk about it and mimic efforts that are indeed already working.

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