As we approach International Women’s Day (March 8), it's time to take stock and appreciate the strength of women and all the progress we have made throughout history.
However, taking stock of our privilege today also requires an awareness of our existing imbalances throughout the world. An important example of this would be the rising climate situation, which has different impacts on certain populations in the world, most notably women who live in impoverished communities.
“In all the chaos surrounding the news about climate change, gender often remains the untold story behind it all,” says Christine Amour-Levar, founder of HER Planet Earth, a non-profit organisation that takes all-female teams on pioneering expeditions to off the beaten track locations around the world as a way to support worthy causes. Indeed, women commonly face higher risks and greater burdens from the impacts of climate change in situations of poverty, with a majority of the world’s poor being women, according to United Nations Climate Change.
In order to shed light on this pertinent issue, the 10-Woman team will attempt the winter crossing of Greenland's Arctic Circle Trail on fatbikes in March 2020, a feat which has never been accomplished by an all-female team before.
First of all, why Greenland?
I chose Greenland because of the growing global warming and rising sea level concerns. The glaciers of Greenland are melting faster than predicted, and we want to see for ourselves the extent of the melt while meeting with climate scientists and local Inuit people to better understand the gravity of the situation.
The biggest concern is that if the giant ice sheets in Greenland continue to melt, global sea levels will rise by as much as 7m. And while coastal cities will be affected by rising sea levels, Asian cities will be hit much harder than others given their population, economic activity and landmass, with a prediction that every four out of five people impacted by sea-level rise by 2050 will live in East or South-east Asia.
What made you find your calling as an advocate for female empowerment and the environment with HER Planet Earth?
A few years ago, I was becoming increasingly frustrated and alarmed by what I was witnessing in the news and around me in nature. I was horrified by the destruction of our planet’s ecosystems, from ocean pollution, burning forests, to the increasing havoc climate change was wrecking on impoverished populations. I realised that Climate Change was the most critical challenge facing humanity today, and I felt powerless. I wanted to make a difference.
I decided to inform myself to better understand this crisis. The more research I did, the more I realised that though climate change is a global phenomenon, its effects are most felt locally with poor people suffering the most.
How have underprivileged women been affected by climate change?
In the past decade, climate related disasters have led to the loss of 700 thousand lives, 1.7 billion people affected and economic losses of USD 1.4 trillion. These effects disproportionately impact women and girls: multiple discriminations mean that women are more vulnerable in crises and post disasters situations.
The good news is that empowering, supporting and educating women is a very good way to mitigate climate change, especially when we help women build livelihoods that are eco-friendly and in harmony with nature. This is exactly what HER Planet Earth has been focused on doing these past few years, raising funds and spreading awareness to our charity partners around the world.
These expeditions must certainly be mentally and physically challenging. How do you and your teams prepare for such feats?
The preparation is all encompassing. When I recruit my teams, sometimes up to a year in advance, I spend time and effort to really get to know them. I train and communicate with them almost every day and work towards building a strong team spirit with empathy and compassion.
Our physical training focuses on core body strength and endurance, and depending on the expedition coming up, the team will also fit-in several sessions of rock-climbing, biking, stand up paddle boarding or hiking. All this preparation is key to the safety and success of our missions.
Were there any epiphanies, highlights, or personal achievements from your previous expeditions?
Indeed, in these past 8 years, my work with my two NGOs Women on a Mission and HER Planet Earth, has given me the great privilege of taking all female teams, close to 150 women to date, from all nationalities, ages and backgrounds, to off the beaten track locations around the world on challenging, and often pioneering, expeditions that really push them outside of their comfort zone.
We’ve been trekking in the Arctic circle and Antarctica. We’ve crossed the largest cave in the world in Vietnam so big in parts that you could fly a 747 through it. We’ve sailed across remote islands in Asia, we were the first to bike across the Danakil Depression of Ethiopia (the hottest place on earth!), the first to stand up paddle down rivers in the Kingdom of Bhutan, among other feats… And we’ve also climbed many mountains in the Himalayas, Mongolia, Iceland and more recently in Northern Kenya. And all these expeditions were all based on the mission to raise awareness and funds for vulnerable women.
These unique experiences to some of the most inhospitable places in the world have truly been incredibly humbling for me. I’ve learned more about leading teams through these experiences than in my 20 years in the corporate world.
Has there been a personal favourite expedition to date?
It’s hard to pick, but I have to say that Kenya and Antarctica were two of my favourite expeditions.
In Kenya we witnessed incredibly stunning landscapes and ever-changing sceneries, from dry deserts and rocky volcanic terrain, to lush green forests and meadows as we climbed higher in altitude to 2,550 metres above sea level. Travelling with a full safari train, made up of twenty-eight transport camels loaded with our tents and supplies, our team walked side by side with an armed Samburu escort composed of proud local warriors, trackers and rangers.
Climbing mountains that had never been climbed by anyone before in the coldest, windiest and most remote continent on earth, Antarctica was a dream come true for me. There is no destination quite as stimulating as Antarctica, a place where man has never permanently inhabited.
Accessible only during its warmest months, from November to March, it has no metropolis or village to speak of, no habitat except perhaps the odd expedition shed or research station; just massive, desolate, glacial emptiness and bone chilling temperatures that can range anywhere from -10°C to -80°C during the colder months.
It is also a powerful symbol of the environmental conservation struggle because it is fighting for its own survival. In fact, Antarctica, the world’s largest desert, which is 98% covered in ice is melting at an alarming rate. Today, scientists project that the long-term result of this melt will raise global sea levels to levels that could be devastating for our planet.
Who are some of the woman leaders you personally admire today?
I am inspired by women who are brave and generous. Those who aren’t afraid to dream big, but also make it a point to help others. Women who are genuinely kind, thoughtful and compassionate inspire me deeply.
I look up to women like Jacinda Ardern, Queen Rania, Michelle Obama, Angelina Jolie, and some of my own friends as well: Executive Director of AWARE Singapore, Corinna Lim; Filmmaker and Philanthropist, Frederique Bedos; Founder of Impact Investment Exchange, Durreen Shahnaz; President of Utah Valley University, Astrid Tuminez; Executive Director of Women for Women International, Brita Fernandez Schmidt and the First Self-Funded Female Astronaut, Anousheh Ansari - to name just a few.
I also admire many of my friends, partners and teammates from Women on a Mission and HER Planet Earth, who have truly become my “tribe.” I am so grateful for their friendship, support and guidance over the years.
For people who want to get involved and help support climate action, what are the little steps we can take to start?
I think the simplest way is to become a climate activist yourself, to join the movement and find ways to break the cycle. So this means looking at every aspect of your life, from the company you are in, the products you consume, to the local politicians in your district. Is the country you live in on track to meet the Paris Agreement targets? Is your bank investing in fossil fuel? Educate yourself, ask questions, talk about why it is important. Rally people to join the movement in your community. There is real strength in numbers!