I could barely feel my toes after 8 hours of standing in line outside at the Bella Center, where the international conference on climate change was taking place last December in Copenhagen. The bitter cold had done a number on my cheeks too, but I was on a mission.
I headed to Copenhagen for an opportunity to participate in a climate hearing organized by Oxfam with Archbishop Desmond Tutu and a number of my sisters from around the world whose communities are struggling because of climate change. I was ready to tell the world the story of Biloxi, Mississippi in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The devastation. The perseverance and community spirit. The lessons of preparedness. And how women picked up the pieces.
Participation in the event meant so much to me because I wanted to stand shoulder to shoulder with others in the same struggle. But because of access restrictions for civil society, by the time I finally got my pass to enter the conference building it was too late. The event was over.
I was devastated and heartbroken, but still determined. So today, I am at it again. This time, I'm heading to Washington, DC where I'm joining almost a hundred women from all over the country and the world who are celebrating International Women's Day by taking a stand against climate change and calling on Congress to stop bickering and take action to help vulnerable communities.
Poor is poor in any language. And whether in Biloxi or in Darfur Africa, it's the poorest who get hit by climate change hardest. My sisters from all over the world know this firsthand.
Constance Okollet knows this because her community in Eastern Uganda has been struggling with increasingly severe droughts and erratic, destructive rains that have led to floods. This has dramatically decreased local food production, leaving some people in her village eternally hungry.
Shorbanu Khatun knows this because when Cyclone Aila hit the Gabura region of Bangladesh, the river burst, crossed over the embankment and totally flooded her village. She and her children had to climb onto the roof of their house, until it too started collapsing. She lost everything she owned.
Ursula Rakova knows this because water levels are quickly rendering her small island in the South Pacific inhabitable, so she is organizing her community to relocate to another island.
And I know this first hand because it happened to me and my community. I lost my home and the business I had devoted my whole life to build. And although the whole Gulf Coast was devastated, the poor were hit hardest as they had no resources to fall back on, and women most of all, especially single mothers with no housing or childcare who were forced to leave their children with strangers so that they could look for work.
But women are fighting back, from Biloxi to Bangladesh. From using hand cranked radios that give advance warning of threatening storms to planting drought resistant seeds, women are on the front lines on the battle against climate change. And we must help them.
As the world celebrates International Women's Day, let's live up to our responsibility together and be pro-active not re-active. Let's not wait for the next devastating hurricane or the next tsunami or drought before we act to help vulnerable communities cope with the negative impacts of climate change. On this International Women's Day, let's get through the noise in Washington and get Congress to act to curb dangerous greenhouse gas emissions and help poor communities cope.