New Zealand has a strong tradition of female activism. From Kate Sheppard and her campaign that won New Zealand women the right to vote in 1893, to women at the forefront of social and environmental movements today, Aotearoa is brimming with inspirational women taking action to create change.

In the environmental movement, there are dozens of women fighting for a better future. Here are profiles of just four of those women--we hope you find them as inspiring as we do.

Rosemary Penwarden became an activist as a grandma

Dunedin local Rosemary became an activist in her 50s, after witnessing the birth of her first grandchild, and being galvanised to create a better future for his generation.

Rosemary (right) taking action to Save Our Rivers in 2017

“The same year [as he was born] I heard Jeanette Fitzsimons, ex Green Party co-leader, speak about plans to fight a massive new coal mine in Southland. At the end of her talk she said ‘This is what I'll be doing for the rest of my life.’ Her words hit me in my guts. I knew then it was going to be my future too.”

Rosemary says taking direct action, as she has done for numerous causes including against Big Irrigation last year, reminds her that she’s not fighting to change the world alone.

“It feels like taking control back. Learning how to organise, what works, what doesn't, how to plan and work with others, knowing our action is a small part of the biggest and most important movement ever - it's empowering and humbling and makes me feel alive and strong.”

As for people power, Rosemary feels strongly that direct action is the best way to use it.

“Direct action is people calling the shots. Rather than trying to work within a structure stacked against us, direct action is a way to rattle that structure, undermine the pillars that hold it up, open up a new way for positive change.”

Rosemary works with several groups including Oil Free Otago, Coal Action Network Aotearoa, and 350 Dunedin. In addition, she’s part of the Valley Community Workspace, Seniors Climate Action, Save Our Water Otago Southland, a community garden group, and other projects.

“I am in awe of the fearless young women I work with in the climate movement. Having spent years without the confidence to step forward, I am learning to be brave from them. Reticence is a luxury we can't really afford now. This is how we take back our power.”

Gina Mitchell became an activist when the fight came to her backyard

Gina was compelled to take action after Watercare announced their plans to destroy native bush in her community, making way for a new water treatment plant.

A long time environmental supporter, the fight coming to her backyard took Gina from behind the scenes to the front lines..

“I’ve always loved nature and care deeply about environmental issues. I grew up with a Greenpeace whale poster on my wall and was always a supporter from the sidelines,” she says.

Gina Mitchelle
Gina Mitchell taking action on the Mermair Searcher in January

“But in May last year, I read that a protected forest in my area was proposed to be destroyed to build a new water treatment plant. I just had to do something. I realised that because of a historic designation the laws designed to protect the environment were effectively being overwritten. It’s such an injustice. I joined the Facebook group who were already fighting it.

“From then on it snowballed. I helped organise a protest of more than 300 people at short notice which received national media attention. It made me understand the ability I have to effect change by working with others and taking action.”

And it didn’t stop there. Gina was so moved by taking part she began to get involved in other environmental campaigns too.

“In January I went a step further and was part of the action on the Mermaid Searcher, an oil exploration ship Amazon Warrior’s supply ship.”

“Taking action makes me feel empowered. It reminds me that as an individual I can make a difference. It’s so easy to read the news and feel helpless, but taking action helps me to feel that we can make positive changes in this world. Taking action enables me to walk the talk.”

Gina is on the committee of the Titirangi Protection Group, who are fighting to stop Watercare building a new water treatment plant in the Waitakeres. The group are currently fundraising for a High Court appeal against the company due to be heard on 2 May 2018.

Sarah Thomson is a law student who took the NZ Govt to court over climate change

In June 2017, 26-year old Hamilton law student, Sarah Thomson, spent five days in court challenging the Government over climate change targets she called “unambitious and irrational”. The case was the first of its kind in New Zealand.

Thomson decided to launch the lawsuit after being inspired by global climate change litigation, including the 900 Dutch citizens who filed a case against the Dutch government, and a US case where 21 kids are taking on the Federal government and fossil fuel companies.

“I’m young and I’m terrified of a time when I might have to look my kids in the eye and explain to them how we let this happen.”

Sarah Thomson
Sarah Thomson took the Govt. to court over climate change

"A lot of people want to see change", Thomson says. And she was right--the community was on her side. Sarah’s ‘givealittle’ page raised over $10,000 to help with the high court filing fee and other legal costs relating to the court action.

Sarah said "it is the young people who will pay the true cost of today's inaction. Our government has a duty to its people, to ensure a safe place for us and our children to live. But, if they are not fulfilling that duty, it is up to us to demand action."

This first time, one of a kind powerful act of courage shows how one brave individual stepping up to take action can still have an impact.

Bunny McDiarmid has been an activist for over three decades

Bunny started off her activism career during the nuclear free movement in the 80s. Just 28 years old when she joined the Rainbow Warrior as a deckhand, Bunny was part of the crew when the ship was bombed in Auckland Harbour in 1985, killing her colleague photographer Fernando Pereira. Since then, she’s taken action on pretty much every environmental issue there is, from Antarctica and forestry to fisheries, oceans and deep sea oil.

But if there’s one issue she thinks everyone needs to get up and take action on, it’s the existential threat of climate change, saying that it should get “everyone out of their silos and trenches” to figure it out together.

Bunny says the feeling of belonging to something bigger than the self is key when it comes to being a successful activist, and that activism is a vital component to a healthy world.

Bunny M
Bunny on board the Rainbow Warrior in the 80s

“[Activism] helps keep our society healthy. Our right to express ourselves, to stand up, to say yes or no. Our right to protest. Our right to act."

After the Rainbow Warrior bombing, Bunny spent months in the Marshall Islands protesting and working to advocate for the Rongelap community, who were relocated from their homes due to radioactive contamination from nuclear testing. She helped to establish the Greenpeace Pacific campaign in 1987 and a Greenpeace regional office in Fiji in 1994, and went on to serve as the Executive Director of Greenpeace New Zealand from 2006-2015. She now works as one of two female Executive Directors of Greenpeace International.

Bunny has worked tirelessly for the environment and vulnerable communities the world over. In her own words: “When we matter is when we make a difference”.