15 Women Fighting for Environmental Justice

March 8 is International Women’s Day, a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating women’s equality.

This year’s theme is #ChooseToChallenge:

A challenged world is an alert world. Individually, we’re all responsible for our own thoughts and actions—all day, every day.

We can all choose to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality. We can all choose to seek out and celebrate women’s achievements. Collectively, we can all help create an inclusive world.

From challenge comes change, so let’s all choose to challenge.

International Women’s Day 2021 theme

As a company led and co-founded by a woman, Temboo is in a unique position to help forge positive visibility of women doing great things around the world. That’s why each year we celebrate International Women’s Day with a blog post highlighting women who are making an impact in their industries.

In past years we’ve highlighted women leaders in IoTmanufacturing, and environmental leaders. This year, we’re featuring women who are fighting for environmental justice, the movement to ensure the fair distribution of environmental benefits and burdens.

These warriors for change are activists, community leaders, elected officials, nonprofit advocates, journalists, and more. Do you know a woman fighting for environmental justice that we missed on this list? Let us know and we’ll share their story in a future blog post or interview!

15 Women Leaders in Environmental Justice

Dorceta E. Taylor, Professor & Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the University of Michigan School for Environment and Sustainability

Dorceta E. Taylor

Dorceta E. Taylor is an environmental sociologist known for her work on both environmental justice and racism in the environmental movement. Her 2009 book, The Environment and the People in American Cities: 1600-1900s, was the first history of environmental injustice in America. She’s received numerous awards for her work and has been writing about racial exclusion in the environmental movement since 1989. Her 2014 book, Toxic Communities: Environmental Racism, Industrial Pollution, and Residential Mobility, examines why racial minorities and the poor are often found living adjacent to toxic facilities or undesirable land uses. She’s also done a lot of work on food insecurity, collective action and social movements, green jobs, and urban agriculture.

Peggy Shepard, Co-Founder & Executive Director of WE ACT for Environmental Justice

Peggy Shepard is Co-Founder and Executive Director of WE ACT for Environmental Justice, a nonprofit based in New York City. Their mission is to build healthy communities by ensuring that people of color and/or low income residents participate meaningfully in the creation of sound and fair environmental health and protection policies and practices. Peggy co-founded the group in 1988, after protesting about sewage in the local river system in Harlem. Her efforts focus on environmental justice in urban communities with the goal of ensuring that everyone has the right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment.

She’s received broad recognition for her work including the Jane Jacobs Medal Lifetime Achievement Award from the Rockefeller Foundation, the 10th Annual Heinz Award for the Environment, the Dean’s Distinguished Service Award from the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health, and Honorary Doctorates from Smith College and Lawrence University.

Wilma Subra, Environmental Health Scientist

Wilma Subra has dedicated her life to helping people facing problems with toxic chemicals and environmental pollutants in their communities. She works with families, nonprofit groups, universities, and government agencies to collect data and advocate for policy and regulatory reform. Her work has resulted in dozens of cleanups of toxic sites across Louisiana and has helped many ordinary citizens to understand, cope with, and combat these issues. Some of the work she’s done with communities includes closing the Marine Shale Processors in East St. Mary Parish, Louisiana, combating groundwater contamination, closing an oil field waste dump, and fighting against wetland destruction.

Catherine Coleman Flowers, Founder and Director of the Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice

Catherine Coleman Flowers grew up among crumbling infrastructure and sewage spills in Lowndes County, Alabama. After earning a master’s degree in history at University of Nebraska at Kearney she moved back and began to identify several failings of the local sanitation. She began to work to address these failings, and received funding from the EPA to address the sewage issues. Her work addressed the lack of sewage disposal infrastructure and the legacy of racism and neglect in the area stretching back to the time of slavery. In 2019 she founded the Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice, which seeks to address the root causes of poverty by seeking sustainable solutions. Her work was recently featured in the new series on environmental racism from the Guardian called America’s dirty divide. She was selected as a MacArthur Fellow in 2020 and was appointed to the Joe Biden Task Force on Climate Change which is co-chaired by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Jacqueline Patterson, Director of Environmental and Climate Justice at NAACP

Jacqueline Patterson is the director of the NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program. Since 2007, Patterson has served as coordinator and co-founder of Women of Color United. Ms. Patterson has worked as a researcher, program manager, coordinator, advocate and activist working on women‘s rights, violence against women, HIV&AIDS, racial justice, economic justice, and environmental and climate justice. She served as a senior women’s rights policy analyst for ActionAid where she integrated a women’s rights lens for the issues of food rights, macroeconomics, and climate change as well as the intersection of violence against women and HIV&AIDS. Previously, Ms. Patterson served as assistant vice-president of HIV/AIDS Programs for IMA World Health providing management and technical assistance to medical facilities and programs in 23 countries in Africa and the Caribbean. Patterson served as the outreach project associate for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and research coordinator for Johns Hopkins University. She also served as a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer in Jamaica, West Indies.

Gladys Limón, Executive Director of the California Environmental Justice Alliance (CEJA)

Gladys Limón has many years of experience in legal, policy, and community-based work for environmental justice and civil rights. Born and raised in Oxnard, she experienced and witnessed first-hand the impacts of disproportionate environmental burdens in her community. Her social justice career started with the Ventura County Living Wage Coalition, now the Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE). Gladys’ work has ranged from supporting CAUSE’s work in defeating a massive liquefied natural gas facility project proposed off of Oxnard’s coast to developing legal strategies for EarthRights Int’l to oppose extraction projects in indigenous communities in the Amazon. Gladys has extensive experience working on behalf of immigrant communities, including as staff attorney at the Mexican American Legal Defense Education Fund (MALDEF), where she litigated cases concerning anti-immigrant laws, racial discrimination, and the rights of low-income immigrant workers.

Most recently, Gladys has worked as an attorney at Communities for a Better Environment on successful high stakes environmental justice matters including the shut down of Exide’s battery smelter that for decades polluted surrounding communities with dangerous levels of lead and arsenic, resulting in one of the most serious environmental catastrophes in California. She brought an unprecedented environmental and civil rights lawsuit on behalf of Youth for Environmental Justice against the City of Los Angeles challenging the rubber stamping of oil drilling projects in neighborhoods, resulting in the City’s issuance of a robust administrative guidance policy that provides environmental and anti-discrimination protections. Gladys is also a lead attorney representing CEJA in the fight to defeat the Puente Power Plant in Oxnard, a fourth dirty fossil fuel plant proposed in a disproportionately impacted community.

Dr. Bakeyah Nelson, Executive Director of Air Alliance Houston

In 2009, Dr. Bakeyah Nelson was working with public health officials in Harris County to address environmental inequalities and her eyes were opened to the effects of living near refineries. This spurred her into action and she became aware of Air Alliance Houston and their mission to fight back against polluters. According to their website, Houston is home to over 400 chemical and manufacturing facilities, over 150 concrete batch plants, and more than 140 metal recycling facilities that can expose residents to harmful air pollutants. Due to the absence of adequate land-use policies, many residents live, work and play in close proximity to these sources of air pollution. Operating as the Executive Director since 2017, Bakeyah works closely with the Board of Directors and staff to ensure that AAH’s mission is fulfilled through strategic planning, programs, and management.

Nicole Horseherder, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Tó Nizhóní Ání

Nicole Horseherder is a Diné (Navajo) environmental activist who grew up in the highlands of Black Mesa on the Navajo Nation in Arizona. After leaving to attend college and grad school, Nicole returned to the area and noticed that a nearby spring had dried up, along with others in the area. This spurred her to action and she began to coordinate social and environmental justice efforts, particularly around equitable water rights and natural resource conservation. As Executive Director of Tó Nizhóní Ání, she works to preserve and protect the environment, land, water, sky, and people and advocate for the wise and responsible use of the natural resources of the Black Mesa region. Her long quest for equity from the rise and fall of the coal economy was recently documented in an article from High Country News.

Elizabeth Yeampierre, Co-Chair of the Climate Justice Alliance and Executive Director of UPROSE

Elizabeth Yeampierre is a internationally recognized Puerto Rican attorney and environmental and climate justice leader of African and Indigenous ancestry born and raised in New York City. A national leader in climate justice movement, Elizabeth is the co-chair of the Climate Justice Alliance. She is Executive Director of UPROSE, Brooklyn’s oldest Latino community based organization. Her award winning vision for an inter-generational, multi-cultural and community led organization is the driving force behind UPROSE. She is a long-time advocate and trailblazer for community organizing around just, sustainable development, environmental justice and community-led climate adaptation and community resiliency in Sunset Park. Prior to assuming the Executive Director position at UPROSE, Ms. Yeampierre was the Director of Legal Education and Training at the Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund, Director of Legal Services for the American Indian law Alliance and Dean of Puerto Rican Student Affairs at Yale University.  She holds a BA from Fordham University, a law degree from Northeastern University. 

LeeAnne Walters, Environmental Activist

LeeAnne Walters led a citizens’ movement that tested the tap water in Flint, Michigan, and exposed the Flint water crisis. The results showed that one in six homes had lead levels in water that exceeded the EPA’s safety threshold. Walters’ persistence compelled the local, state, and federal governments to take action and ensure that residents of Flint have access to clean water. She’s been honored with the PEN America’s Freedom of Expression Courage Award and the Goldman Environmental Prize and testified before the United States House Committee on Oversight and Reform about her work during the water crisis.

Katsi Cook, Mohawk Native American midwife, environmentalist, activist, and women’s health advocate

Katsi Cook is a nationally and internationally recognized community leader working at the intersections of environmental justice and reproductive justice. She currently serves as program director for First Environment Collaborative at Running Strong for American Indian Youth. Weaving Mohawk visionary epistemes with her work in environmental reproductive health, Katsi observes that:

“Women are the first environment. We are an embodiment of our Mother Earth. From the bodies of women flows the relationship of the generations both to society and the natural world. With our bodies we nourish, sustain and create connected relationships and interdependence. In this way the Earth is our mother, our ancestors said. In this way, we as women are earth.”

Katsi has served as a member of the Indigenous Peoples Environmental Justice Working Group (IPWG) of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and is a member of the Center for Disease Control (CDC) National Tribal Environmental Health Think Tank working in policy arenas at the tribal and federal levels, increasing discussion and promotion among North American public health authorities of the significance of Indigenous women’s health across the lifecycle from the knowledge that woman is the first environment, first relationship, first experience and first medicine of a new life. 

Dr. Beverly L. Wright, Founder and Executive Director of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice

Beverly Wright was born in ‘cancer alley’, a highly polluted area of Louisiana that is notably home to majority communities of color. These childhood experiences lead her to pursue a career researching environmental and health inequalities along the Mississippi River Chemical Corridor. In 1992 she founded the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice at Dillard University, a community-university partnership that provides education, health and safety training, and job placement for residents in environmental justice and climate-impacted communities within the United States. Her awards and honours include the Environmental Protection Agency Environmental Justice Achievement Award.

Kandi Mossett-White, Native Energy and Climate Campaign Coordinator at Indigenous Environmental Network

Kandi Mossett-White is a leading voice in the fight to bring visibility to the impact that climate change and environmental injustice are having on indigenous communities across North America. After completing her Master’s Degree in Environmental Management, Ms. Mosset began her work with the Indigenous Environmental Network as Tribal Campus Climate Challenge Coordinator, engaging with more than 30 tribal colleges to enstate community based environmental programs, discuss issues of socio-ecological injustice, and connect indigenous youth with green jobs. She currently serves as the IEN’s Native Energy & Climate Campaign Organizer, focusing at present on creating awareness about the environmentally & socially devastating effects of hydraulic fracturing on tribal lands.

Heather McTeer Toney, National Field Director of Moms Clean Air Force

Heather McTeer Toney became the first woman, first African American, and youngest person to serve as Mayor of Greenville, Mississippi. The area, located in the Mississippi Delta, has a high poverty rate and was plagued with water pollution. In her tenure as Mayor, she prioritized environmental issues and worked to combat the pollution occuring there. In 2009, then-EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson nominated Tony to serve as chairwoman of the EPA’s Local Government Advisory Committee because of her work in Greenville. Today, she serves as the National Director of Moms Clean Air Force, a nonprofit focused on fighting air pollution.

Nina Lakhani, Environmental Justice Reporter at The Guardian US

Nina Lakhani is an environmental justice reporter at The Guardian who covers topics like the recent freeze in Texas and the effects that it has had on vulnerable populations there and racial inequality in the COVID vaccination rollout. Her series Our Unequal Earth investigates environmental injustice and efforts to address it. She previously reported on Central America for The Guardian, BBC, Al Jazeera, and many others. Her book Who Killed Berta Cáceres? is a portrait of the life and death of a courageous indigenous environmental leader. John Perry from Council on Hemispheric Affairs said of her book, “Nina Lakhani is a brave reporter. She had to be. Since the coup in Honduras, 83 journalists have been killed; 21 were thrown in prison during the period when Lakhani was writing her book. She poses the question ‘would we ever know who killed Berta Cáceres?’ and sets out to answer it.”

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