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COP26 activists: Catalina, Zainab, and Xiomara
Catalina Santelices, Zainab Yunusa, and Xiomara Acevedo

The young women activists fighting to make COP26 more feminist

Climate advocates from the Women and Gender Constituency speak about the challenges of participating in environmental negotiations and share their demands for building a more just future for us all

Over the next two weeks, Glasgow will be the site of some of the most consequential decisions around climate justice ever made. Government officials, negotiators, journalists, scientists, and activists have gathered to wrestle with key questions around global climate action: who must act, who can lead, and how fast we must go. Amid all of the noise, youth activists are demanding that gender, racial, and economic justice is at the centre of proceedings.

The negotiations are hardly a space where all are heard equally. Dominated by delegates from wealthy countries and private businesses – and made even more inaccessible by COVID travel restrictions and unjust visa processes – the COP is a deeply unequal space.

Data collected shows that women are vastly underrepresented within the climate talks, even though women and non-binary folks are disproportionately impacted by the climate crisis, in particular Indigenous, Black, and women of color, migrant women, disabled women, and folks who hold other marginalised identities. In the global climate talks in recent years, we know women made up only 40 per cent of national delegates. And the evidence that gender analysis must be central to climate action and policy is clear: after extreme weather events and disasters, there is an uptick in gender-based violence; it has been shown 80 per cent of the people displaced by climate change are women; and those in poverty – the majority of whom around the world are women – face greater challenges in recovering from climate impacts and migrating after disasters.

Environmental defenders, so many of whom are Indigenous women and two-spirit peoples, are often on the frontlines of defending their lands and communities against corporate and state violence, and face criminalisation and threats to their lives because of it. However, those who are on the frontlines of climate impacts are also on the forefront of solutions, and their voices must be centered in these global negotiations.

But grassroots women and activists, in particular from Indigenous nations, rural communities, island nations, and across the global south, faced incredible challenges getting to COP26 – from insurmountable costs, absurd visa challenges, and failed promises from the UK government to deliver vaccines. The inaccessibility and inequity in whose voices are represented in Glasgow is stark. 

Among them – both in person and through engaging virtually – youth activists are demanding loudly and clearly that we must have gender, racial, economic, and climate justice in the negotiations. We caught up with a few young feminists at COP26, who are participating in collective feminist activism through the Women and Gender Constituency, a network of women’s rights and climate justice organisations globally. We asked them about their experiences as young feminist advocates in the space, the challenges of participating in the negotiations, and what their demands are to building a more just future for us all.


Andrea Vega Troncoso is a young queer feminist from the Dominican Republic, now living in the US. She works at the Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO) doing global climate justice and development justice advocacy in United Nations spaces

“As so many young feminists head to COP, we must recognise the huge privilege it is to even attend such an inequitable event, organised amid a global pandemic, intersecting injustices, and deep inequalities between and within countries. This space remains inaccessible to many Indigenous, Afrodescendant, young, grassroots, and frontline activists, advocates, and feminists, especially from the Global South. Nonetheless, today in Glasgow and everyday  around the world, young activists are calling for climate justice, for radically feminist futures, for a transformation to systems based on deep care for people and this planet. Many risk their lives and put their bodies on the line to do so. Our presence is crucial at COP. We are here to fundamentally challenge, reject, and disrupt the silver-bullet, false solutions being proposed by the private sector and colonial, imperialist governments (like ‘net-zero’, carbon market schemes, geoengineering, and so much more.) 

Young climate feminists at COP are here to demand repair, justice, and care – from feminist climate finance for loss and damage, to ensuring human rights are at the core of all climate action. We’re building and imagining the radically just futures we know we deserve. We won’t settle for less.”


Zainab Yunusa is a youth activist from Nigeria and works at Plan International Youth, Movements and Campaigns Coordinator, coordinating work to champion girls’ voice, power and leadership for gender equality

“I am here to advocate for more inclusiveness - in both global climate change negotiations and all policy-making processes. I’m going to be closely following deliberations on climate finance, because my interest lies in discussions that involve tracking climate-related funding that richer countries made in negotiations previously. Young women face a deeper level of exclusion in climate decision-making for so many reasons. This includes lack of funding, opportunities and recognition of our work. We demand climate justice and full realisation of the $100 billion per year climate finance commitment now!”

I also want to be building momentum with other young people to challenge countries to commit to building capacities of young people to actually be meaningfully participating in processes like COP. Being at COP is also about building relationships and partnerships that strengthen the climate actions of youth at the community, individual, and global level!”


Patricia Wattimena is a young Indigenous feminist from Indonesia and a climate justice programme officer of the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law, and Development (APWLD), a network of feminist organisations in the Asia Pacific region

“These climate negotiations have failed to ensure meaningful participation of grassroots women from the global south, ignoring the intersecting crises we are facing. This is especially true through the discriminatory COVID-19 restrictions and changes, which made it far too late and inaccessible for many women advocates to join COP. If world leaders want to genuinely tackle the climate crisis, COP26 must address the root causes of the worsening climate catastrophe. 

Women at the grassroots have presented so much evidence that false climate solutions are harming rural and Indigenous communities, promoting militarisation, and strengthening the capitalistic economic system. I am here because these stories of women’s leadership, resistance, and solutions must be reflected in the global climate negotiations if we ever want to realise a just and equitable recovery from climate crises.”


Xiomara Acevedo is a young feminist and climate activist from Colombia, and founder of the youth-led environmental organization Barranquilla +20

“My priorities at COP are to make noise! I want to advocate for equality for present and future generations. Guaranteeing women’s rights for climate justice is an urgent priority in the face of the current planetary crisis. This COP, in my opinion, is about implementation. We already have the framework to act – the Paris Agreement from six years ago – and the urgency is increasing with each day of inaction.

The COP space needs to amplify the demands and realities of women and understand how gender shapes our lives. The close link between androcentrism, conservatism, and climate denial deeply affects the fight for climate justice. It only reproduces violence and marginalisation for women, limiting the access they have to be involved in the decision-making processes and exercise our leadership even when we are protecting our territories and peoples at the local level. I don’t want to see another 30 years of climate negotiations where just a few are deciding the fate of the planet and those most affected by climate impacts.”


Catalina Santelices Brunel is a young feminist from Chile and co-founder of Latinas for Climate

“As co-founder of Latinas For Climate, I think that the things we have to talk about and achieve at the intersection of gender and climate are to let the most affected people be a part of the decision-making process. The only way to make solutions that really have a positive impact in their lives is by considering their ideas and worries around the topic, and include them in every possible space.

I demand high-level politics, and that all the COP26 attendees don’t forget the global south, Afro-descendant, and Indigenous women every time they have to make a decision, participate in an event, or give a speech. I want people to know that women can solve the man-made climate crisis, and that we are not going to wait anymore. There is no more time to lose, and we know that young women’s leadership is one of the most effective solutions.”