Championing Female Eco-Warriors and Imagery to Fight Climate Change

By Bonnie Chiu

“Here, water is a big problem. Some villages do not have water for months at a time. During this time people have to walk hours to get water to use for drinking, bathing or in some cases for the rice fields… The air pollution is really bad and a lot of people have lung infections and diseases,”

explained Alexa Tkwapa, Founder of Chai Lai Orchid, an eco-lodge near Chiang Mai that trains “at-risk” women in hospitality, English, Thai and computer science, along with holding seminars on women’s health, trafficking and women’s rights.

Video showcasing the work of Chai Lai Orchid

Since January 2016, we have been working with Alexa to train the women there in photography and storytelling. The photos they take show us a world where people, animals and nature co-exist peacefully with one another. But given worrying trends in climate change, images such as the ones taken by Karen village women like Soe are quickly disappearing.

Portrait of Zong, a stateless Kayan woman, with her elephant. The photograph was taken by Lensational Thailand Programme Manager Patricia Lois Nuss. The natural habitat is quickly being destroyed and there are signs of deforestation.

Research by UN Women stresses that women are more vulnerable to the effects of climate change than men — primarily because they constitute the majority of the world’s poor, and because they are more dependent for their livelihood on natural resources that are threatened by climate change.

“The face of climate change is the face of a woman who’s suffering,” explains Mary Robinson, Former President of Ireland and United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Climate Change.
This photograph was taken by Soe in her Karen village in Thailand.
This photograph was taken by Kushboo, a 12-year-old school girl living in Chennai, India during a Lensational programme. In the world’s poorest countries, women spend a staggering 40 billion hours every year fetching and carrying water.
This photograph was taken by Nargis, a 13-year-old ‘surfer girl’ who lives in Cox’ Bazar, Bangladesh, during a Lensational programme.
This photograph was taken by Felistar Oyolo, a 14-year-old girl living in the Mathare slum, Kenya, during a Lensational programme in collaboration with Mathare Foundation. Households in rural Africa spend an average of 26% of their time fetching water, and it is generally women who are burdened with the task (UK DFID).
Misper Apawu, 22 years old and currently participating in Lensational’s Ghana programme (organised in collaboration with KickStart Ghana), documented women and children from a village close to Ho fetching water. Due to the long distance they need to walk from the village to the stream, night falls before they return.

The above images from five distinct Lensational programmes in Thailand, India, Kenya, Bangladesh, and Ghana show a common theme: women and girls from poorer backgrounds bear the disproportionate burden of climate change. They have to walk longer to fetch water, therefore spending more time on care responsibilities, and missing out on education and economic opportunities. The walk to the well is often a perilous journey with risks of being raped.

The power of imagery and storytelling is that it unlocks human emotions and creates a common space of understanding and empathy. As Jon Landau, Oscar-winning Director of Titanic and Avatar said,

Storytelling enables us “to see the world from each other’s eyes, and to think about things in a different way”.

There are many everyday actions that we can all do to fight climate change. Seeing these images taken by young girls in developing countries, I start to visualise the consequences of my actions, as well as my inactions. And I also start to realise the power of Soe, Kushboo, Nargis, Felistar, Misper and many other of our photographers. They are not only taking pictures — they are documenting their realities and demanding actions from us. They are advocates, and in the context of climate change, they are eco-warriors.

Exactly because women are more vulnerable to climate change, they are also very effective agents of change. Our Programme Manager in Thailand, Patricia Nois Nuss, tells me how she is always amazed by how well Soe talks about the elephants she runs treks with. Women have a strong body of knowledge about natural resources, and in most countries they are the stewards of natural resources. Equipping them with the confidence to speak out against injustice, and the global platform to tell their stories, is one step towards fighting climate change, and turning words into action.

This photograph was taken by Soe in Thailand, as part of her “No Water” series. We wish for a brighter future for girls who sacrifice their education to fulfil care responsibilities.

This is the fifth in the series of blogs by Millennial Bloggers powered by the Global Search for Education, which selected Bonnie as one of the bloggers alongside other young writers from all over the world.