Women and youth leadership in the climate crisis


Raina Chinitz

May 19, 2023

Women in Sani Isla make artisan handicrafts using natural fibers, dyes, clay and tools from the forest as a source of income.

Incredible things happen when women have the tools to lead in historically patriarchal spaces and when young people have a platform to exercise their powerful and fierce leadership.

Rather than simply pushing pieces around within an existing framework, we rearrange the framework entirely. We re-envision and redirect channels of power, resources and advocacy.

And, when women and youth leaders work together, large-scale transformation– the kind of major cultural and societal shifts we need to tackle deforestation and climate change– becomes possible.

These shifts are illustrated perfectly by Rainforest Partnership’s projects in the Ecuadorian Amazon and by our Gen Z for the Trees youth movement.

Three Kichwa women in Ecuador standing in front of a cachma fish pond and two holding bags with baby cachama fish.
Kichwa women in the Ecuadorian Amazon holding baby native cachama fish to raise in communal and family pools

A collaboration between women-powered organizations

Rainforest Partnership itself was founded by women, is led by women, and is powered by a majority-women team with many Gen Z and millennial team members. One of our very first projects empowered women in the Ecuadorian Amazon to support their communities and protect their rainforests. Our youth branch, Gen Z for the Trees, is the world’s only global youth-led organization focused on ending deforestation.

Our focus on women-powered conservation is just one reason we were honored to receive the support of Planet Women, an organization that partners with women to create a healthy planet for all life.

From Africa to the Amazon to the Colorado River Basin, Planet Women is improving forest, water and biodiversity health and reducing carbon emissions. Planet Women invests in projects led by local women, along with Indigenous and multi-generational leaders, ensuring the inclusion of those most impacted by environmental decisions from start to finish. They are also transforming the conservation space by promoting a new model of leadership that embraces power sharing, collaboration, and many ways of knowing.

As two organizations led by women who are powering women-focused conservation and climate solutions, our partnership with Planet Women was a natural fit— and a powerful collaboration.

Planet Women is hosting a free event on May 22, 2023 called “Voices for the Future: Youth Leaders Protecting Biodiversity,” featuring two youth leaders including Roshan (Rosie) Khan from Gen Z for the Trees and Isabella Cortes Lara, Director of Conservation from Women for Conservation.

Empowered women protect forests: Women of the Rio Napo

For several years, Planet Women has been powering our Women of the Rio Napo project in the Ecuadorian Amazon and our Gen Z for the Trees youth movement. A recent grant in 2023 helps us continue this work.

Together, we are supporting women-led associations in Kichwa communities along the Rio Napo. These associations are organizing to build economic independence and opportunities and to enable women across generations to own their roles as powerful protectors of community lands and cultures.

"Sani Warm is a women-led project that, by mixing ancestral knowledge in their endeavors, creates a sense of uniqueness that allows them to make an income and feel empowered and free. They can be considered pioneers and an example for other women who lead projects in the Ecuadorian Amazon as a model that can be replicated in other communities." - Senaida Cerda, Project Coordinator Ecuador

Artisan handicrafts, native fish, and sustainably grown cacao, honey, and essential oils– the women are turning their communities’ abundant resources into opportunities to support themselves and to redetermine their futures with creativity and vision.

Women in Sani Isla make artisan handicrafts using natural fibers, dyes, clay and tools from the forest as a source of income.
Women in Sani Isla make artisan handicrafts using natural fibers, dyes, clay and tools from the forest as a source of income

Alongside these livelihood projects and our partners, Rainforest Partnership coordinates training, empowerment, and educational opportunities for women in these communities. We respond to the needs the women have identified, namely, to develop the skills and resources to more efficiently and effectively lead their projects to long-term success.

Group of Kichwa women sit in a semi-circle with RP CEO Niyanta Spelman and RP team members in Ecuador.
Rainforest Partnership's CEO and Ecuador team meeting with Sani Warmi women's association in Ecuador

In addition to skills training, technological resources are a foundational need for the women to grow their projects. From laptops to clean water pumps to solar panels, greenhouses, cacao processing equipment and bathrooms, these materials and equipment are keys that unlock the powerful potential of these women-led associations.

Empower women in our partner communities with a donation towards their equipment, resources, and other project needs.

Women on the Frontlines of Rainforest Stewardship

Women in frontline rainforest communities are integral to protecting community land. They are traditional and essential stewards of family and communal chakras (land used for cultivation). They are vocal and strong advocates for conserving forests and resisting external threats such as oil and mining exploration and extraction. And as mothers and family members, they empower the next generation to better understand and protect their communities’ land and rights.

Dreams of Kichwa Women empowerment and vision-making workshop in Sani Isla led by two representatives of University of Pennsylvania and Fundacion Pachay Sana

In 2022, our community partners protected 149,500 acres in the incredibly biodiverse Ecuadorian Amazon.

With newfound access to knowledge, tools and skill-based resources, these women are expanding their work and their vision for the future with confidence and independence.

Gen Z for the Trees

When young people embrace the importance of protecting forests and biodiversity, they protect the entire planet. Planet Women also funds Rainforest Partnership’s own youth movement, Gen Z for the Trees, which was created in 2020 by a group of young people passionate about forest protection and climate action. Gen Z for the Trees has since become a global digital movement, bringing young people together from around the world to tackle global drivers of deforestation.

Gen Z for the Trees co-leads Roshan Khan and Jamie Ziah at COP26 in Glasgow

Through extensive research into the ways that deforestation is embedded in global economic systems, educational campaigns, and advocacy initiatives, Gen Z for the Trees has used its platform to advocate against deforestation in global spaces such as COP26 in Glasgow and to push for further transparency in the palm oil industry by uncovering unlisted palm oil mills.

The Gen Z for the Trees team is currently producing thorough research and resources on palm oil, soya, cattle and pesticides, and leading an outreach campaign to push large food and restaurant chains to eliminate deforestation in their supply chains.

This work has made Gen Z for the Trees a powerful youth-led mechanism holding large-scale decision makers accountable to their pledges to act responsibly to halt deforestation and climate change.

Learn how you can get involved with Gen Z’s work as a member of the team.

Changing the Leadership Narrative

There are so many ways that women and young people are transforming forest conservation—from funding innovative projects, to leading NGOs and nonprofit organizations, to empowering and leading action in frontline communities.

Members of the Hatun Urku community in Ecuador

By recognizing women and young people as critical leaders in conservation, Planet Women is a partner in powering Rainforest Partnership’s projects that defend Indigenous lands and advocate for our forests.

From our work on the ground to our leadership in global spaces, our partnership with Planet Women is a powerful illustration of the power of women coming together to act for our forests and planet.

Take action!

Read more stories of women driving powerful change across the world on Planet Women’s website and learn how you can expand Rainforest Partnership’s Women of the Rio Napo and Gen Z for the Trees projects.

If you’re inspired by these women-powered stories of impact, consider supporting our new fundraising campaign to immediately and directly fund projects on the ground in Ecuador. 100% of your contribution will be used to support women’s livelihoods and empowerment in Kichwa communities and protect indigenous land from extraction, deforestation, and contamination.