Climate change can be a big and scary idea that we run from, or we can chat about it with friends! We should all find ways to relate to climate change that make us feel safe. Luckily, we are blessed with a boatload of inspiring young African girls and non-binary folk who are leading the charge as environmental and climate change activists on the continent. Read this guide to find out where they come from, how they stand up to climate change in their communities and their message to the world about climate change.
Young girls are powerhouses of intelligence, communion, and solving intricate problems together. Why shouldn’t climate change and solutions to its effects be part of our girl talk? I know that climate change can be scary, and we often treat it like a monster looming on the horizon. Fearing something can restrict the freedom we allow ourselves to learn about it, and I’d like to encourage you from the beginning of this article to fight that fear. Knowledge is power, and this could not be truer when it comes to the topic of climate change.
I have learned from and been inspired by other young female and non-binary climate activists from Africa who are leading the revolution towards a just climate future through their activism. I wanted to share the profiles of five inspiring young climate change activists detailing their activism and the kind of work that they do for their communities – that you could do too! These young folk are passionate about change and act as incredible role models and influences in our lives.
Ayakha Melithafa (South Africa)
“It’s very important for poor people and people of colour to go to these protests and marches because they are feeling the wrath of climate change the most. It’s important for them to have a say, for their voice and their demands to be heard.”
20-year-old from Eerste River, South Africa.
She studies at the Center of Science and Technology in Khayelitsha and is the youngest member of the Presidential Climate Commission in South Africa. Her role in the commission is important because young people have unique, intersectional perspectives on the climate crisis that must be considered when drafting policy.
She is a member of the African Climate Alliance – which organised multiple climate strikes in Cape Town. She is also a graduate of the 90 by 2030 campaign, which aims to deliver South Africa to a low-carbon future by 2030 in a sustainable and equitable manner. She joined other young climate change activists from the African Climate Alliance, which creates awareness of the unjust issue of climate change, and organises climate marches regularly.
Ayakha recognises the important position of the youth as a guiding force for world leaders in the fight against climate change and stresses the need to include diverse voices in the climate crisis dialogue. She recognises that young researchers and activists can help leaders understand this issue in its complexity in a way that will create a new model for systemic change.
Read this article with Ayakha about choosing a university degree that will allow you to fight against climate change.
Rahmina Paulette (Kenya)
“My message to the older generations and the African leaders in regards to the climate…is that we need to work together in terms of enhancing more future sustainable projects and having more eco-friendly businesses.”
16-year-old from Kisumu, Kenya
Environmental activist for Fridays for Future, Kenya and Founder of Kisumu Environmental Champions, Kenya, a youth-led organisation focusing on environmental, conservation and climate change awareness.
Rahmina dedicates her time to informing local communities of environmental issues, such as plastic waste and biologically invasive plant species, that degrade the health of ecosystems that they depend on. She stresses the importance of providing economic opportunities to local communities in the process of ecosystem restoration and climate change adaptation, and resilience building.
Watch Rahmina’s Instagram takeover on Fridays For Future’s page.
Watch this short video from Reuters.
Follow Kisumu Environmental Champions #LetLakeVictoriaBreathAgain.
Elizabeth Wathuti (Kenya)
“Most of the things that are happening in the world right now are because we have chosen to put profits above the people and our planet. But if we can get everybody around the world to love nature, appreciate nature, and make sure that we are doing this from deep within our hearts and within ourselves, then we can change so much in the world within a short period of time.”
27-year-old environment and climate activist from Nyeri County, Kenya
Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Studies and Community Development from Kenyatta University
Founder of the Green Generation initiative that aims to nurture a love and respect for nature in young people, Elizabeth is now Head of Campaigns at the Wangari Maathai Foundation responsible for the Green belt Movement. She was recently named TIME 100 Next Leader 2022.
Elizabeth experienced firsthand environmental degradation by humans in the forested lands of her home and the effect this had on water and people’s health. She focuses on bringing acute awareness to the devastation that people and humanity face due to climate change and the need for justice for those who will continue to suffer.
Watch Elizabeth’s moving speech at COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland (2021).
Read this article about the impact Elizabeth’s speech had on global leaders.
Vanessa Nakate (Uganda)
“When someone says, ‘you are the representative of the African continent’, I’m like, ‘No. I am from Uganda, and the climate movement is more than one face. I find that it erases what everyone else is doing, and yet every activist has a story, and every story has a solution to give, and every solution has a life to change.”
26-year-old climate justice activist from Kampala, Uganda.
Vanessa initiated the Fridays for Future campaign in Uganda. She founded the Rise up Climate Movement to amplify young activists’ voices across Africa. She also started the Vash Green Schools project, which supplies solar cookers to schools.
In 2020, Vanessa attended the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland, where she called on companies, banks and governments to stop subsidising (or supporting financially with tax cuts and investments) fossil fuels. She received widespread attention when a media outlet cropped her out of a photograph of other white youth activists. Although many people know her because of this racist incident, we must hear her message too:
Vanessa finds it essential to use her platform to uplift the voices of all activists from the global south. The fact that the media focuses on her strengthens her message that the plight of Africa under the weight of climate change is erased in western media. Vanessa stresses the importance of addressing societal goals like poverty eradication and zero hunger through the lens of climate change.
Read stories of activists from the Rise Up Movement.
Read more about the Vash Green Schools Project.
Raeesah Noor-Mahomed (South Africa)
“The solutions we hear are mainly for the environment. But in a world with so much inequality, in a country where people still suffer from the legacy of colonisation and apartheid and the current institutionalised corruption, the solutions cannot only be made to save our futures. The entire system needs to change. Change needs to be driven from a grassroots level by giving people the tools to change things themselves instead of having governments and organisations deciding on their behalf. We need to put people before profit. Fossil fuel companies need to be taxed, and the money must go towards ensuring every person’s rights are met.”
A 19-year-old student at University of Cape Town, from Johannesburg and Cape Town.
Raeesah brought the Fridays for Future movement to South Africa by boycotting schools every Friday in her matric year, 2020, in an attempt to persuade the government to declare a climate emergency. They co-founded Stage For Change, a movement using art and expression to connect people through the difficulties of the climate crises and create a decolonised space for young activists. They attended COP26 in 2021 as an observer.
Read this article in the Daily Maverick written by Raeesah.
We need to understand climate change to empower ourselves. It comes down to us to innovate and take actions in our smaller and greater communities that will strengthen our lives against the coming tide. We need to pivot from thoughts like “Climate change is ruining my future!” to “How will my community be affected, and what can I do to understand and work towards a better future?”. Let us know in the comments who inspires you to act against climate change and how you think you can act to adapt in your community.
Tell us: What are your thoughts on climate change?
Read more here on girls who run the world.