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Women Nobel Laureates Say Global Warming Disproportionately Affects Women

Two women Nobel laureates came to Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., recently to call on the U.S. Congress to address climate change. The women represent the Nobel Women's Initiative, an advocacy group of women laureates that stands for women's rights and peace. The laureates want women's voices heard as U.S. lawmakers debate legislation to curb global warming.

Kenyan Wangari Maathai won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her campaign to reforest Africa. American Jody Williams was recognized in 1997 for her work to ban landmines.

Williams says it is no coincidence that the two women laureates were in Washington together. "When we were in Nairobi in 2004 with [laureate] Shirin Ebadi from Iran we were chatting about how we Nobel women could get together and use our access and influence to support the work of women around the world for peace with justice and equality, and it was at the Nobel Ladies Tea where we came up with the idea and here we are."

The Nobel Women's Initiative puts women laureates like Williams and Maathai on the road. They meet with lawmakers, host seminars and, as a group, promote initiatives that advance women's rights and peace. Their mission in Washington was to raise awareness of global warming.

Maathai says women are disproportionately affected by climate-related disasters, especially in the developing world. "Men can trek and go looking for greener pastures in urban areas, in other countries, but for women, they are usually left on site to face the consequences."

Maathai's message to American lawmakers is that as the world's lone superpower and the world's largest polluter, the United States must take a greater leadership role in the battle against global warming, "to show that it embraces the international responsibility and leadership by providing legislation that would give the financial support, the technological support and the moral support to the rest of the world. As long as the United States of America doesn't take its leadership position, the rest of the world hides behind her."

Maathai says if current warming trends continue, the world is likely to experience more severe storms and droughts, rising sea levels and mass migrations. Why not, she suggests, provide aid that can help prevent natural disasters? "Why not allocate money that can help them avoid deforestation for example? Why not encourage businesses in the United States and elsewhere in developed countries to go and invest in these areas through the carbon market?"

Williams and Maathai gained world recognition for leading campaigns about complex issues. Maathai says she did not set out to create a movement, but focused on solving a local problem in a simple way, one tree at a time.

"All I have to do is look for a tree, dig a hole, plant a tree and water it, and if I can make it survive, I feel like I have started a campaign that the whole world can also participate in." According to the United Nations Environment Program, Maathai's Greenbelt initiative has expanded into 155 countries, planting more than two billion trees worldwide.

Jody Williams notes that the global treaty to ban landmines didn't happen by magic. "It is just hard work and strategic thinking, which is what we need to do as women."

The two laureates agree that making the world a better place is a matter of individual choices. With persistence and patience, Maathai says, "You make a little dent and change the world."