"This is Zero Hour" Puts Indigenous Rights on the Frontline of Climate Change and Gender Equality

At the “This is Zero Hour” Miami Summit, the youth-led climate movement brought to the attention of the audience the intricate connections between climate change and its effects on indigenous people, women, and the LGBTQ+ community.

(From left to right) Indigenous youth activists Tokata Iron Eyes, Jasilyn Charger, Nina Berglund and Alethea Phillips speak on the panel “Indigenous Stories from the Frontlines”.  Photo: Ludovica Martella

(From left to right) Indigenous youth activists Tokata Iron Eyes, Jasilyn Charger, Nina Berglund and Alethea Phillips speak on the panel “Indigenous Stories from the Frontlines”.

Photo: Ludovica Martella

Jamie Margolin, co-founder of This is Zero Hour, addresses the audience at the Miami Climate Summit.  Photo: Paula Mitre

Jamie Margolin, co-founder of This is Zero Hour, addresses the audience at the Miami Climate Summit.

Photo: Paula Mitre

On the weekend of Friday, July 12, the youth-led organization This is Zero Hour ran a climate-awareness summit in Miami, Florida, at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Miami Airport & Convention Center. This is Zero Hour (also referenced to as “Zero Hour”) is the pioneer youth organization in the US advocating for climate action, with sister chapters all around the world. As co-founder Jamie Margolin explained in an interview with me , the goal of the summit was to bring awareness of the risks of climate change through workshop activities and panels by people working on the frontline of the issue. Some of the speakers included Greta Thunberg and Nathan Phillips (the indigenous leader who was infamously bullied by a young Trump supporter in a video that went viral in January 2019,) his daughter Aletha Phillips and a group of young indigenous women activists, such as Nina Berglund, Jasilyn Charger, and Tokata Iron Eyes. Their presence was crucial to highlight the very close ties between climate change and its repercussions on minority groups such as women, indigenous peoples and members of the LGBTQ+ community. If you didn’t think these issues could be related, then this article is for you.

Many people think that the climate crisis was initiated by the Industrial Revolution due to the peak increase of burning of fossil fuels used to kick start and maintain rapid rates of industrialization. In reality, the principles of insatiable extractions of natural resources, which characterized this period of time, always trace back to colonization and its roots. “With colonialism came the extreme extraction of the Earth, and the genocide and silencing of the indigenous wisdom of the peoples that have been keeping this Earth alive for centuries” Margolin explained. “With colonialism came the idea that everything on this Earth is made for our extraction, and that everything is to be bought and sold.” These principles of extraction move against the way of life of indigenous people, who are connected to the Earth through their beliefs of simultaneous harmony and relations with all that is living. “We were raised from a very young age being taught that the land and the waters are part of us, that they are relatives” Tokata Iron Eyes, a young indigenous activist from the Standing Rock #NODAPL movement, explained during the women-led panel “Indigenous Stories from the Frontlines” which was part of the conference. “Therefore, when we talk about climate change, we are talking about an assault on our lives, an assault on our bodies and our future. Our entire way of life depends on the land and the water and the ways they work together with us. We got an entire system of balance.” That system of balance is overthrown when big extraction companies dig close to indigenous conservations or build pipelines across them. The spills of gas or oil cause severe pollution of the water system, essential to the “system of balance” that Tokata referenced to.

It is also important to note that, unfortunately, this rhetoric of historic oppression doesn’t only apply to indigenous people, but to people of color as well. “Colonialism never went away, it just evolved,” Margolin commented. “There is compelling evidence that increasing social inequality is linked to environmental degradation and that the health of people of color and those living in poverty is negatively impacted by being exposed to higher levels of environmental pollution than their white counterparts or people not in poverty.” One of the most famous American examples of this is the led-filled water in Flint, Michigan, where 40% of families live in poverty and 57% are black. “This the next system of oppression that is very much intertwined with colonialism: racism” Margolin commented.

Jasilyn Charger, a Standing Rock activist, engaging in a conversation on water protection, gender rights and colonialism.  Photo: Paula Mitre

Jasilyn Charger, a Standing Rock activist, engaging in a conversation on water protection, gender rights and colonialism.

Photo: Paula Mitre

So how does all of this relate to gender equality? Colonization not only forced exploitive ways to threat the Earth upon locals, but it also exported a patriarchal system (mainly homophobic) to the indigenous communities, which were historically matriarchal. This means that women were the leaders of the tribes, being the ones between the two sexes who cultivate the seed of life. “Being part of the LGBTQ+ community is hard,” said Jasilyn Charger, also a Standing Rock water activist and 7thDefender Project co-founder, who identified during the panel as “consigned bisexual”. The LGBTQ+ culture “has been completely wiped out from our culture by boarding schools and colonization. When the colonizers first came to our camps, those were the first people that were thrown out because they were thought to be crazy”. And with those, women were harassed, raped, and slowly taken away from their leadership positions within the tribes. Men, at the same time, were forced into boarding schools, where they were taught to re-asses their thinking around what they always knew to be true, that the Earth, just as women, are the only things that constantly give life, and therefore should be protected and respected. Unfortunately, this is why, nowadays, indigenous men are struggling to let women into positions of power and reassess to a more gender-balanced society. “It’s really hard for us on the frontlines because when you are advocating, people look a you and all they see it’s a woman. And women in our culture just don’t do that anymore. We have to fight extra hard to get heard, to be listened to and be taken seriously. We should be respected at the highest levels because we are the carriers of our next generation, we carry the sacred life, we give birth to the children in this world,” Charger commented. Tokata Iron Eyes made a speak to this purpose, a speech which left the room speechless:

“No one really understands how tied women are to the Earth, the land and the waters, because we are the carries of life. The only other thing that has the power to do that is the Earth. The Earth is the only thing that continues to give us life over and over again. That interdependent connection between women and Earth is what keeps us alive. All women in this room are goddesses and you have to remember that, because that’s where the power comes from and that’s the power that this movement will need to continue to stay alive, and this is the power we need to continue to create change because it is now” – Tokata Iron Eyes

Tokata Iron Eyes, a young activist from the Standing Rock Sioux tribe speaks at the Zero Hour Miami Summit.  Photo: Paula Mitre

Tokata Iron Eyes, a young activist from the Standing Rock Sioux tribe speaks at the Zero Hour Miami Summit.

Photo: Paula Mitre

The connection between women and nature continued to be a major topic within the conference, which saw the participation of over 350 participants, speakers, and panelists from across the world. It’s extremely important to be aware of how these issues are deeply connected so to have a complete vision of the climate issue. Once the problem is clear, it will be even easier to take action, whether it is through demanding climate action from our politicians, or volunteering at your local community. The key is to inform yourself, especially because these are issues that are often not portrayed in the media. As Tokata explained, “the majority of the population is severely disinformed on indigenous people. We live in a world where everyone of us was colonized in some ways. If you look far enough, every single one of us has an indigenous person in our lineage because everyone was indigenous at some point.”

If you’d like to know more about This is Zero Hour and get involved, you can visit their website and find out if they have a sister chapter in your area. If not, you have the option of creating a sister chapter yourself. Margolin confirmed that even though the information is still confidential, there will be actions around the September 20th climate strikes and the Earth day 50th anniversary. Follow them on their social to find out more.



“Men, you CAN sit with us”

By Ludovica Martella

“Fighting for gender equality from the beauty industry to the United Nations. A conversation with NGO CSW/NY Gender Coordinator Houry Geudelekian”

About a week after the end of the 63rd Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), I sat with Houry Geudelekian, gender equality activist, mom, child marriage survivor, and unbelievable kind soul, between many things. Houry is currently the Gender Program Coordinator at the NGO Committee on the Status of Women, NY (NGO CSW/NY). This non-governmental organization (NGO) supports the work of the UN on its fight for gender equality, but especially, CSW, the yearly global gathering of women in NY, meeting to discuss and network on the topic of the year. For this 63rd gathering, the priority theme was “Social protection systems, access to public services and sustainable infrastructure for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.” Houry is also UN coordinator for Unchained at Last, an NGO fighting against child marriage. I met with Houry to talk about her formation as a women’s advocate. Our conversation revolved around two main pillars: how the beauty and fashion industry can be demeaning to some women, and why men should help women achieve gender equality in the work space in the time of the #MeToo movement, where talking gender can be a scary subject for some men. 

 The beauty industry and the fight for gender equality. How both men and women should be aware of false beauty stereotypes

 Originally Armenian living in Lebanon, Houry came to NYC in the 70s, where she ran successfully her own business with her former husband for about 35 years, in the beauty and fashion industry. In her field, she started noticing images that demeaned women and girls. “When I went to press releases, I would always say that ‘beauty comes from within’ and that you don’t need to follow fashion to be beautiful. Obviously, there were people rolling their eyes at me but there were actually a lot of people who appreciated that. So I guess I could say that without knowing, I was for gender equality, but that was not intentional.” As many women (some of whom are not aware) both Houry and I have been victims of societal pressure to look a certain way. “They (beauty industry companies) make you feel less than you are just to sell you crèmes etc. and honestly, you don’t need all of that. The reality is, it’s a gazillion dollars industry and people need to make money.” Because of the monetary factor, but also because the human being thrives to be accepted by others, these standardized beauty norms are well integrated in our society. The trick to not get stuck in them is to call them out and realize they are money schemes and to truly start appreciating ourselves for how we are. 

Houry speaking on behalf of NGO CSW NY in New York City.

Houry speaking on behalf of NGO CSW NY in New York City.

But HOLD ON a sec, how is this connected to gender equality?

There is evidence that these schemes demean some women because of several reasons. First of all, women might not feel the freedom of being themselves and embrace their natural features. This can cause relevant stress and insecurities in a woman’s life, which in the worst case, can bring to mental illnesses such as eating disorders. Furthermore, being persuaded to feel the need to “look a certain way” is a substantial waste of time: a distraction from working on ourselves from within. As a result, some women run the risk of spending more time beautifying themselves rather than on working towards their life goals. “I went through months of sadness thinking that no one was going to touch me because I am not going to give into whatever it is that women have to adhere to,” Houry confessed. “But then I realized, I am not my body, I am thankful for it, because it carries me around, but I don’t need it to be perfect in order for it to be valuable” (hands clapping emoji here). Another way in which mainstream beauty and fashion industries also demean women is, unfortunately, in their representations in advertisements. As I always quote, “the medium is the message,” and considering that we are consistently fed with advertisements with photo-shopped women, these false beauty standards end up being digested by not only some women, but some men too. “There are not enough guys who want that (natural beauty). So, I think we need to keep on talking about the truth behind all beauty and fashion industry. And again, there are women who want to adhere to beauty standards, and guys out there who want that, and I am not going stop them” Houry commented. Obviously people are and should be free to do what they want, but I would say, let’s save the savable. By talking more and more about the false reality of the commercial standardization of beauty, we can protect young women especially, and encourage them to accept themselves for how they are and live a life with less stress. 

A recent Avon ad was criticized (here by feminist activist Jameela Jamil) for demeaning women and their perfectly normal features.   Jameela Jamil’s Twitter @jameelajamil

A recent Avon ad was criticized (here by feminist activist Jameela Jamil) for demeaning women and their perfectly normal features.

Jameela Jamil’s Twitter @jameelajamil

 If you are personally struggling with accepting yourself for who you are, I advise to follow these inspiring women on Instagram: @whollyhealed, @ownitbabe (who also has an amazing podcast, “Own it Babe,”) @mybetter_self , @jameelajamil and @bodypositivepanda.

Should men stand up with women on the fight for gender equality? (A.K.A. rhetorical question) 

In 2010 Houry decided it was time for a change. She got divorced and got fired from her business, which she now laughs about, then she stumbled upon NGO CSW NY through a friend who said an Armenian organization needed representation. She knew she wanted to work in social justice, and she admits that at the time, she knew very little about gender equality, but she accepted the job anyways and got involved with the UN. “I remember being in the room listening to Michelle Bachalet talk and say why they were creating UN Women and why it was necessary to have a separate entity to fight for gender equality and suddenly everything made sense, all of the world made sense. That was it. The rest is history”. From then on, Houry embarked a career working toward gender equality, a topic which involves not only the participation of women, but the one of men too. This prompted me to ask her about men supporting women in the time of the MeToo movement, which turns out to be, a tricky subject.

DO women want to be supported by men in achieving gender equality norms?

I personally stumbled upon some men who said to be “afraid” to stand up for women because these might take it as undermining their own strength (gentlemen, I would say, when in doubt, offer help: that is always appreciated). “The bottom line is,” Houry said, “we need to humanize both men and women. We are both human. At the end of the day, we are on similar quests. There are no reasons why no woman starting up as a secretary, and no man starting as an assistant, for example, can’t become the CEO of a company. To get to that point, there are a lot of steps you have to take. None of that is unique to male or to a female. So to me, the idea that a man shouldn’t support a female because she is ‘strong and independent enough’ is irrelevant. It has nothing to do with what we are talking about. Your genitalia should not make a difference on how you behave.”

“Here’s the million dollar light ball: men can be affected from patriarchal society as well. There are enough men out there who do not need to be patriarchal to achieve their goals. The problem becomes when those men who don’t want to be in that patriarchy system feel less supported even than the women. Because they become the bullied ones and they are the ones who end up saying ‘it’s not worth it’. They are not the ones going after the CEO position because they feel like they are not going to be supported, because they think differently. So can’t we just ask the controversial question, ‘can a human just support another human’ and not see it as gendered? 

The way we support people is by humanizing them. Slavery happened because we dehumanized the black skin. Or American Indians, or indigenous people. Violence happened because we dehumanized them. There is no gender there, but there is dehumanizing of humans, so you can control them. The same things happens with members of the LGBTQ+ community. We dehumanize them. We say, ‘no human being could be with another of the same sex, it’s not human, it’s not how God created us.’ To fight that, we need to humanize ourselves. To this day, the same thing still happens with slavery and there is so much more work to be done. It took 200 years to abolish slavery, but there is still much work to be done to end it. And perhaps it’s like that with gender equality too.” In fact, the fight against gender equality (just as the one against climate change, *sigh) is much younger, than, for instance, the fight against racism. “Perhaps this is a time where we are chipping away by giving good example on how an equal society should be, but it will take time. Look at the United States women's national soccer team. They are suing U.S. Soccer because there is no reason why a woman should be paid less of men for the same amount of work. The only reason why it happens it’s because these companies have been doing this for a long time. Furthermore, there are men who are starting to stand with us. Look at actor Benedict Cumberbatch, who claimed was going to refuse his role unless his female co-star would get the same money.”

Members of the U.S. women's national soccer team filed a lawsuit in March 2019 against U.S. Soccer, accusing it of gender discrimination.   Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Members of the U.S. women's national soccer team filed a lawsuit in March 2019 against U.S. Soccer, accusing it of gender discrimination.

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Small gestures to stand up against inequality of any type, can go a long way, even if we live in a seemingly unfair society. Change though can happen, eve if slowly, and it could impact the lives of many people. So, when in doubt, let’s stick together for everyone’s success.

What do you think about these subjects? Feel free to leave a comment below.

You can look at the work by NGO CSW NY by clicking on the link or by following them on social media.


 

 Updated on April 23rd 2019 at 11:52 A.M.