Well here we are - and as the women’s forum comes to end, I’d like to thank Chiara, Anne-Gabrielle and all the team at the Women’s Forum for their wonderful work. I feel inspired, and I’m leaving with a stronger pulse, a newfound resolve. Thank you all.
It’s easy to feel insignificant when thinking about the vastness of our planet and the billions of people living on it. But yesterday, the astrophysicist Ersilia Scarpetta showed us the Earth as a pale blue dot in the sunbeam – the only place we know that hosts life among the thousands of planets in other solar systems around us and beyond. What is an exploration of outer space becomes an inward journey about what we hold most dear: The Earth is our home, and we must protect it. I then couldn’t help smiling at the thought of our ancestral instinct being to build a settlement on the moon, while while men dream of living on Mars and conquering other planets. We should remember our own, too, and begin to value, as a human race, what women have always understood: nurture.
This climate crisis is a fight for survival. But we’ve been fighting with one arm tied behind our backs. Untie it, and see what women can do. Of course, we know that women are much more affected by climate change than men. But over the last few days, I have learned to see women not as victims, but as agents of change– something we can all be.
Oulimata Sar from UN Women talked about her women’s agenda, the three Rs: Rights (of their land for example), Representation (a seat at the table) and Resources (such as finance and education)– which are crucial to women’s empowerment and leadership. This is exactly what the Women’s Forum climate charter is asking for. I’ll be signing it later, and I hope that you will too.
I was also struck by the words of Alexandra Cousteau, the oceanographer and climate advocate, who said that it’s not enough to be against something– you have to be for something and articulate a shared vision for what can be done. This vision will unite us and propel us into the future– a future where entire seaweed forests thrive in the ocean, capturing carbon and sustaining entire communities (all of this led by women, obviously).
Paul van Zyl told us that all the renewable technologies are in fact already in place to change the world of energy and combat climate– which I did not know. We just need the collective will to implement them on a global scale.
I was so taken and impressed by the way Isabel Kocher challenged herself to transform – rather than tweak – the energy targets of her company. They won’t just be ‘ambitious’– they will be absolute, and ‘crazy’, she said. They will leave us no choice but to adopt 100% renewable energy. Isabelle gave us the courage to wipe the slate clean.
Speaking of solutions, I was amazed by the range of women entrepreneurs who use their great ideas and skills to address global challenges. But the majority of these women are only getting 2% of their necessary funding to start their businesses. Worse than that, when they pitch their business, they are asked to justify how they will use (or lose) the money, while men only have to explain how fantastic they are... We women must undergo a necessary shift in mindset– from defensive answers to affirmative ones.
We need these women entrepreneurs to develop technologies that directly address women’s issues– many of which have been neglected until now. The incredible scanning technology developed by ODT, that helps save women from cervical cancer, which won the Women’s Forum call for initiatives, is a good example. Ultimately, technology is a neutral tool, until bias is applied. When that happens, that tool becomes dangerous. So we need to ensure, that from the very beginning, all of us are included in the products and services that have the power to shape our lives. Currently, however, most companies – even if the will is there – are simply not equipped to understand the effects that AI has on women, and how to deal with it. The call to action is clear.
It’s so important that initiatives like the Women’s Forum STEMSISTERS campaign – which connects young women in STEM with women mentors – are encouraging more women and girls to enter the STEM pipeline and grow within it. And as Chiara Corazza said, we need to make STEM more attractive to girls and teenagers in general and give them the keys to a world which – let’s face it – is digital.
The green technological revolution will create 18 million jobs requiring STEM skills by 2050– and we cannot afford to leave women behind. Now is the time to give them these skills to participate, benefit and lead in the future. Elisabeth Moreno expressed this very clearly in her call to action: Don’t count on governments. It’s up to us, people in business, problem-solvers, to make the change.
Change is indeed the only constant in our lives. And as Abigail Disney was saying, differences are the stitches that bind us, (and embracing these differences will make a new world map). Helen Needham talked about neurodivergent people as not difficult, but different; and said that when you remove barriers for the neurodivergent, you remove them for everyone, and create more inventive environments. True inclusion and diversity allow us to be different and yet, to belong. Gender, race and sexual orientation do not divide us– they give us a common vision to fight for.
During this conference, I felt such a connection to you all, both here and in remote parts of the world, in a way that is utterly new to me. So thank you for having provided me with a sense of belonging, sorority, sisterhood, and hope. Ann Cairns quoted Madeleine Albright: “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women”. For what it’s worth, I think you’re all going to Heaven. And so are the men, here, by the way! We need them by our side as we realise our vision for an inclusive world.
Your work spans decades of effort across so many different areas. My own commitment to you is to find the way in which I could best contribute to these efforts and become a valued member of the team. I’m ready to be a part of it.
Thank you, again, for welcoming me.