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“Women Lead, Action Follows” - Pat Mitchell on the Interconnected Fight for Gender Equality & Climate Justice

The future is female. To tackle challenges that define the future of our planet – like climate change, food security, global health, and gender equality – Pat Mitchell is uniting the efforts of women leaders and sparking action across the globe.

Mitchell has been a witness and a participant in the story of women’s challenges and accomplishments. She broke countless barriers as a journalist, news anchor, television host, producer and media executive, and she created new pathways for women, uplifting their stories, and increasing representation at every level. 

For the past several years, Mitchell has co-led, along with Ronda Carnegie and Hafsat Abiola, an initiative called Connected Women Leaders (CWL), founded on the belief that if women leaders, across generations and geographies, are given opportunities to share stories, experiences, ideas and insights, they can and will collectively shape solutions to the world’s most pressing issues.

How is your work helping address issues of gender equality and women’s rights? 

From my earliest memory, growing up in the rural south of the United States, I recognized the inequality of expectations and opportunities that were open for girls and people of color. I wanted to do whatever I could to change this reality, which limited not only individual potential, but also progress to more equal rights and access.

For me, the path to greater equality has to include understanding where we have been – respecting the ways that women have sustained their families and communities by sharing learnings and supporting each other. But the stories of women’s contributions through history are largely untold and uncelebrated. I prioritized telling those stories for the inspiration needed to continue the struggle toward true equality. 

Much progress has been made in my lifetime, but there is still no true equality in the U.S., or in most other countries. Looking forward with the inspiration of what has been accomplished, there is so much evidence of the differences women make when they have access to equal education, financial independence, and representation at all decision-making tables. Women bring different qualities, life experiences, and problem-solving approaches that are needed everywhere. 

In 2017, with the first Connected Women Leaders Forum at the Bellagio Center, a diverse cohort tackled the challenges of good security, access to affordable health, and the global climate crisis. With this unique opportunity to collaborate and connect across silos of work, we focused on all these issues and the urgent need for women to take leadership. 

In subsequent forums at the Bellagio, with the encouragement and leadership of Mary Robinson, the first woman President of Ireland and the current Chair of the Elders, we made our priority the climate crisis. It is the “mother of all issues,” as Mary reminded us, and we must have a habitable Earth for everyone in order for all other social issues to be addressed. Supporting solutions that would lead to a climate-safe world for everyone had to be our collective goal. 

When you bring smart, experienced women leaders together and give them the opportunity to share and problem-solve, they will. “Women lead, action follows” is our theory of change. 

  • When you bring smart, experienced women leaders together and give them the opportunity to share and problem-solve, they will.
    Pat Mitchell
    Connected Women Leaders

What breakthroughs need to happen to create real change in the intersecting issues of gender, equity and climate justice?

Many women don’t get involved in solving climate challenges because they don’t realize how disproportionate its impact is. So many more women and girls are dying, becoming impoverished, and losing their land and their livelihoods. Women don’t realize this, in part, because we’re up against a misinformation campaign from interests that profit from the status quo, one intended to keep us paralyzed and confused, thinking, “I don’t know what I can do about this.” 

Connected Women Leaders launched Project Dandelion to elevate this disproportionate impact as a call to action. Our goal is to mobilize 2 billion women who might currently be sitting on the sidelines because they don’t see the reality of what’s coming or know what to do. We know what needs to be done: stop subsidies for fossil fuel companies, incentivize investment in renewables, pay up to those least responsible but most impacted, build greater resilience to climate emergencies, learn from indigenous peoples, scale a fair and accessible future for everyone, and elevate woman-led climate solutions. We just need to get those answers widely understood. 

The biggest breakthrough comes down to power. Early in my career, I met the extraordinary Bella Abzug, a congresswoman from New York, at the first-ever peace conference convened by women. Bella stood up and said, “In this next century, which is the one we’re living in, women must change the nature of power rather than power changing the nature of women.” 

If we conquered that, if we embraced all experiences that come with living as a woman, if we allowed men to do the same – because men are also often restricted by the lack of gender equality – we could change the nature of power. And if we change the nature of power, the way it’s used, both to lead and to follow, we could change everything in the world.

What keeps you up at night about achieving these goals? What makes you optimistic?

In my 1998 interview with Fidel Castro, he said to me, “You cannot be a revolutionary and be a pessimist.” You have to be an optimist to believe change is possible. Millions of women farmers in India are saying, “Our priority has to be making the sky clean. We’ve got to have air to breathe and water to drink.” They’re putting that into action by starting regenerative practices. All around, I see incredibly positive moments scaling up quickly, and that’s what’s going to move us towards solutions. What keeps me up is the worry that we’re not going to do it in time. The urgency of meeting climate targets is an enormous challenge. There are over a hundred global elections this year, and climate has got to be at the center. We just can’t sit on the sidelines. We have to get engaged.

Uniting our efforts amid such urgency seems daunting. But to Mitchell, it’s a challenge that we have to face. “I don’t want to look at my grandchildren and say, ‘We didn’t do it.’” she says. “I want to look at them and say, ‘We did this. We came together.’ I honestly believe that it will happen if women leaders take this up.”

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