Ask a climate activist: Why is it important to engage women in promoting biodiversity and sustainable waste management in the Caribbean?


About the author

Ruth Spencer. Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown
Ruth Spencer. Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown

Ruth Spencer, GEF/SGP National Coordinator from Antigua connects with people everywhere she goes—in the market, in church, at the parking lot or in the halls of the United Nations. She builds networks and capacity of local community groups through education, training, resource mobilization and partnership-building, especially for climate action. Recently, she has set up a network of local groups and individuals in the island of Antigua and Barbados to promote sustainable waste management. As a participant in a workshop on gender-responsive global biodiversity framework, she spoke to UN Women about women’s conservation efforts.

Waste is one of the main challenges for biodiversity. Antigua comes second to Trinidad, in terms of waste per capita—seven times higher than some western countries!

I started meeting people—governments, private sector, local groups—we all came together and worked with UNDP Centre of Excellence. We went around the country to map what’s happening with waste management. We found that recycling, disposing and repurposing of waste is being done by NGOs mostly. They have the passion and commitment, but no means of scaling up their initiatives.

We created a network—we now have a zero-waste network and a WhatsApp group; majority of the members are women. I went on radio one day to talk about waste management and immediately three teachers contacted me and said they would like to be part of this initiative and bring it to their schools. The Network takes school children for site visits and shows them where the waste ends up and how it damages the environment. Then the teachers can talk about waste management in their classes.

Women are more visible and vocal than men in our communities. Many of our households in the Caribbean are headed by women, they are raising the children, and in community meetings it’s women who show up. They alert the community about risks and are pushing for protection of our wetlands.

I know this woman—Jennifer Moanta—she started doing coastal and marine clean ups. Jennifer has collected bags and bags of waste and created art out of the waste.

We are doing what we can in Antigua through education and capacity building. But we need technical skills, technology and innovation—equipment to recycle better, to improve the soil—that’s where we need help.