It was in 2014, in Peru UN Climate Change Conference, that the UN declared that discussions about climate change must engage gender issues. But one team of women had been already talking about this for a long time, carrying this very same flag in Rio-92 Conference. Brazilian activist Thais Corral was one of them. “Our mission was to mobilize the most women we could to participate. It had to be clear that we could – and should – talk about issues that were not considered as feminine, but that directly affect our future,” she says.

Thais was one of the founders of Wedo (Women, Environment and Development Organization), an international NGO created to incorporate the women’s movement into the environmental agenda. In Rio-92, Wedo wrote a document entitled Women’s Action Agenda for a Healthy Planet.

The NGO grew, received several awards, and to this day, is a powerful force fighting for women and for a more sustainable planet. Thais founded other organizations, coordinated a development program for Brazilian government, and created a project to empower women to manage water resources in Brazil’s Northeast region that received an award from UNO, as well as a radio network targeted to hundreds of women residing in Brazilian communities.

In almost three decades of activism, Thais has convinced many that gender issues must be on the agenda in any talk about solving climate issues. But it is necessary to ensure that this discussion effectively produces changes. And this happens only when people look in the right place. “Many debates revolve around general interest themes, while issues that negatively affect women more strongly and urgently are usually in the home realm,” says Thais.

In her opinion, too little attention is paid to basic issues, such as sanitation and waste management. “If there is no treated sewer or water supply, women are the most affected, since they usually look after children and the sick,” she declares. “The Zika outbreak is an example of how this part of the population, especially with lower incomes, is more affected.”

Drought in developing countries, for example, forces women to walk longer distances to find water. This means that they lose work opportunities and start to dedicate all their time fulfilling survival demands for their families. To take another example, in a natural disaster, the poorest communities suffer more – and 70 percent of those who live below the poverty line are women.

“It is useless to give power to more women and continue repeating the present patterns that negatively affect them.”

The same woman from the cover photo, with white skin and short brown hair, is crouching on a lawn, stretching her left arm towards a circle of dark earth. She is wearing a black dress and a thin blue tiara on her head. With her right hand, she is holding a clear glass cup and a piece of white cloth. In the back is a lawn and various people wearing shoes.

Thais and her field work with women: they come with ideas about nourishing families (Thaís Corral/Personal Archive)

Women make up 80 percent of the rural workers in Africa and Asia, regions which are vulnerable to extreme climatic events. In Brazil, the most severe environmental issues occur in the Northeast region of Brazil, where droughts and floods tend to be more intense, according to a research conducted by organizations related to IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Chante).

When Thais talked on the phone with Believe.Earth, she was at Jacuípe Basin, countryside of Bahia, site of one of her projects: Adapta Sertão. In this area, average temperatures have increased 1,75 Centigrade from 1962 to 2012. The average precipitation index decreased 300 mm in the same period. Thus, agricultural production decreased and deforestation increased, intensifying the local impacts of climate changes.

“This scenario motivated our support for sustainable farming, specially related to the development of cooperatives and the follow-up of production lines, that usually linked to the women,” tells Thais. “They represent 99 percent of the workforce, for instance, in the cooperative for collecting licuri, that is processed for oil extraction. We help with the mechanization of this system, and this creates income for women and their families.”

A wooden sign stuck in the ground with the words “Dry toilet” written in Portuguese in green letters. In the back, on the left side of the photo, is a small pink house, and there are trees on an uphill slope.

Sinal do Vale farm, in Rio de Janeiro, houses one of Thais’ projects for testing solutions for a more sustainable world (Thais Corral/Personal Archive)

One of the most recent initiatives of Thais is Sinal do Vale, a farm 50 km from Rio de Janeiro, in the middle of Atlantic Rainforest, which works as a laboratory for testing resilience projects and ideas for a sustainable future. “We work with initiatives on soil regeneration, waste reduction, and valorization of local ingredients. Sinal tries out ways to change standards, to rethink the culture and the way we work together.”

One of the courses that are taught there is explores creative culinary approaches, with food made through less processing and without chemical additives. According to the activist, most of the participants are local women. “They observe very closely issues like early diabetes in children, who suffer from the effects of the over-industrialization of food. And we know that a sectors with one of the largest contributions to the greenhouse effect is large scale farming, which is related to food processing,” she says.

She sees women as agents of transformation. “We must see the way everything is interrelated. Before a scenario occurs in which people do not know how and where to start from, women are relearning to cook in a healthy way, without spending on over-processed products, and taking this knowledge to their communities,” says Thais.