International Women's Day 2021

10 March 2021

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By Amanda Martin OAM, CEO AEGN

As we come to the end of a week of celebrating women, I would like to send a big shout out to all the wonderful women working to protect our environment.

I cannot find the statistics, but it is my guess that women dominate the sector if you add up all the scientists, public servants, activists, volunteers, community group workers, ecologists, land managers and farmers.

International Women’s Day made me reflect on my own journey to become a leader in the environment sector and how we can apply a gender lens to all that we do at the AEGN and as funders.

Way back in the mid 90s, I worked firstly for Environment Victoria as their Development Manager then the Victorian National Parks Association (VNPA) as their CEO. At this time, I met the very wonderful philanthropist Anne Kantor and other members of her family. I did not realise this at the time, but Anne and several members of her family, quietly made it their business to support young women in the environment movement. Anne still does this — see Anne Kantor Fellowship at the Australia Institute.

As a funder, she paid special interest in me and how I was managing my roles and she ensured that we had core funding so that I could get my job done. She didn’t question my capacity but met with me regularly to check in on how I and the organisations I worked for were going. When Esther Abram became the CEO at Environment Victoria and I was the CEO of the VNPA we occasionally had lunch together, discussing the complexities of achieving conservation outcomes and of being women leaders.

The journey

The journey of most women, to leadership positions, involves discrimination in many forms. For me, while I have been supported by a vast majority of men and women, I have also experienced sexual harassment, a sense of “imposter syndrome” and regularly being talked down to or over in favour of men in the room.

Ultimately, Anne’s support helped me find a management mentor — the late Glen Ochre. Glen was very inspiring. She equipped me with the confidence and practical skills to do my job. Over many years, the encouragement of Anne and Glen made me feel competent, powerful and up to the roles I stepped into.

I would also like to recognise many other members (both women and men) who have personally supported me over my time at the AEGN.

The lessons here for funders are

  • Provide core support to organisations so women leaders can get on with their job and they feel supported to do so.
  • Meet regularly with women in the environment movement to find out how they are going and what they might need to get their job done. Being interested in their journey is a very powerful way of supporting them.
  • Encourage and back women to find and work with a professional mentor or to access the right support, training or development women might need.

It is important to point out that most of the volunteers, grassroots activists and workers in environment and climate change community organisations are women. So, while specific funding aimed at women is important, an investment in capacity building, long-term core funding, and funding decent wages in the sector would also benefit a lot of women across the sector.

And I support women too

At the AEGN, we have a great team of intelligent, talented and effective women that I coach and mentor, and they inspire and educate me too.

As such, Daisy Barham, AEGN Environment Philanthropy Manager with thanks to other AEGN staff, have prepared the article below Supporting women to win. Daisy has worked for state, national and international organisations dedicated to protecting our natural world for over a decade.

Another wonderful resource to assist you to apply a gender lens to your giving is on the Australian’s Investing in Women (AIIW) website — the Gender-wise Toolkit. CEO of AIIW, Julie Reilly would be very happy to talk to you about their gender lens for philanthropy —

Supporting women to win

By Daisy Barham, AEGN Environment Philanthropy Manager with thanks to other AEGN staff

Climate change and environmental destruction disproportionately affect women – both around the world and here in Australia. Yet, far from being passive victims, women are at the forefront of the solutions to environmental degradation and climate change. On International Women’s Day 2021 I looked at how philanthropy can support women who are taking centre stage in finding the solutions for a safe and just world where nature and communities thrive.

Women in the environment movement

Original Power have developed a comprehensive timeline of the history of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander resistance. Indigenous women have been at the forefront of protecting Country from nuclear mines and waste, securing land rights, and returning First Nations people to care for Country. Today over half of Australia’s land mass covered by Indigenous titled lands.

Australia’s modern environment movement emerged at a time when women’s rights were front and centre in public discussion. Sans statistics, we guesstimate that today, a majority of the volunteers, grassroots activists and workers in environment and climate change organisations are women. Although we have many wonderful women CEO’s, the gender of the ‘do-ers’ of the movement are still not represented by the leaders of the biggest environmental organisations in the country.

An investment in capacity building, long-term core funding, and funding wages commensurate with the work done in the sector would impact a lot of women.

Daisy Barham, AEGN Environmental Philanthropy Manager

Climate change exacerbates gender inequality

Whilst women are at the forefront of driving solutions to climate change, they are also disproportionately affected by it. The UN estimates that women compose 80 per cent of people displaced by climate change. Closer to home there are other examples — public health officials and service providers reported an increase in domestic and family violence following the 2020 bushfires, a pattern in line with research findings following the 2009 Black Saturday blazes that showed higher rates of violence in areas more severely affected by fires (pdf).

While women and girls are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change and environmental destruction, they are also key to the solution. Women are often the early adopters of new agricultural techniques, decision makers in the home, first responders when crisis hits and educators of the next generations, so their involvement in climate solutions is absolutely critical.

View the UN Women’s photo essay titled: Climate change is a woman’s issue.

What can philanthropy do to support women in the climate and environment movements?

Philanthropy can be the investors behind the engine room of creating social change. Below are some practical suggestions for how philanthropy can invest in women in Australia to catalyse the contribution women make to solving the greatest environmental and climate challenges humanity has ever faced.

This list of organisations and ideas is not exhaustive, so if you of know others — let us know too.

Support organisations with women as their specific mandate

Support more women to participate in training opportunities

Kick-start new initiatives

You can always ask the organisations you already fund what they need to better support the women in their team that are doing great work but here are some ideas:

  • Women in the environment training and mentoring fund — your giving vehicle could provide a fund for women to apply for funding for training and mentoring opportunities. An example of this type of program is the Social Impact Leadership Australia established by four of Australia’s largest foundation.
  • Women in the Environment address or dinner to highlight great women doing excellent work and provide a networking opportunity for women in the sector — this would need a hosting organisation, maybe an organisation you fund would make a great home for it! See Celebrating Women in Conservation breakfast with Trust for Nature and Bush Heritage.
  • Strategy incubator — your giving vehicle could provide 3-6-12 month funding for women to have dedicated time to develop new environmental initiatives, advocacy campaigns or programs, away from the usual constraints of working for an existing organisation. A wonderful example of such a program is The Myer Foundation’s Innovation Fellowships.
  • Paid internships and volunteering opportunities for young women who want to enter the sector.

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