Women in Leadership: Activists dedicated to environmental restoration and conservation. | Mercedes Pombo

Date: Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Photo: Alejandra Bonaccini


Mercedes Pombo, since the age of 19, is a member of "Jovenes por el Clima Argentina", a social-environmental organization that fights against climate injustice. She is a philosophy student and co-host of the radio program "Que Mundo Nos Dejaron", on Nacional Rock.

Why do you defend the environment?

The defense of the environment is inseparable from the defense of human rights and the search for social justice.

Environmental issues deepen and crystallize all pre-existing social inequalities. It is the historically neglected sectors that are displaced to flooded areas, near or over landfills, where the water contains high levels of lead, areas fumigated by pesticides, or flooded areas.

Faced with the historical challenge posed by the climate and ecological crisis, in which socio-environmental problems are becoming more acute and frequent, collective organization and the construction of a movement to confront these situations is a historical responsibility that cannot be postponed.

What is the relationship between feminism and the environment?

The profound climatic and ecological crisis in which we find ourselves responds to an extractivist and patriarchal logic, which associates men with development, paid work and rationality, while opposing them to women, with nature, irrationality and care tasks. The domination of men over nature has its correlate in the domination of men over women.

The fact that both environmentalism and feminism are constituted as great movements of transformation of our present, with a strong protagonism of youth as a political subject, responds precisely to a paradigmatic questioning of the logics that mark our present. The trivialization of both struggles is not accidental either and has to do with the radical nature of the demands, which cannot be circumscribed to a single claim and which call into question historical power relations, both within countries and at the geopolitical level.

Why do environmental issues particularly affect women?

All environmental catastrophes lead to an increase in caregiving tasks, which continue to fall mostly on women. Added to this is the phenomenon of the feminization of poverty, which means that the social inequality implied by socio-environmental issues is marked by a profound gender inequality.

A crude reflection of this reality is the pandemic in which we are immersed, in which it was women who shouldered the overload of care tasks, both in community spaces, organizing picnic areas and soup kitchens, as well as inside homes. The differential economic impact was also evident: according to data from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), as a result of the pandemic, some 47 million more women and girls will fall below the poverty line.

The historical role of caregivers assigned to women means that in addition to being the most affected by the consequences of the climate and ecological crisis, it is also women who are often on the front line of battle, fighting against socio-environmental conflicts, such as the women of Famatina, the mothers of Ituzaingó, the environmental promoters of cartonera trajectory, among many other examples of struggle.

How do you practice activism in both cases?

Both my environmental and feminist militancy are unthinkable without the collective construction that surrounds me.

I believe that the alliance between the new generations, who will have to inhabit a future marked by the climate crisis, and the most vulnerable sectors, who are already suffering the consequences of this crisis in the present, is what reformulates these activisms as movements, transversal and intersectional, which emerge from the grassroots and raise their claims to the leadership.

I also believe that, although there is a constant attempt to empty these movements of political content and trivialize their slogans, they are inseparable from other social struggles. That is why parliamentary advocacy and pointing out the sectors of power that benefit from environmental depredation and the perpetuation of inequalities are fundamental to both the environmental and feminist struggles.

Another thing that for me is fundamental is the dispute of meanings. In addition to the material conquests of the environmental and feminist movements, I believe that one of the greatest conquests is the symbolic one, the fact that today these are unavoidable issues on the public agenda.

What motivated you to found the organization Youth for Climate Argentina (JOCA)?

Youth for Climate arose as a result of the massive mobilizations against climate change that were taking place all over the world.

There were a series of socio-environmental issues that challenged me because I identified a systematic violation of human rights that was completely invisible.

Before the creation of Youth for Climate I did not imagine environmentalism as a space for militancy because in the collective imagination it was always tried to be disassociated from social issues and it was associated with more superfluous issues or those that were not related to our situation as a country.

Youth for the Climate also responds to the need to build an environmentalism that incorporates a Latin American and human rights perspective.

Also, when creating Youth for Climate, it was central, for me and my colleagues, to create a space that takes the climate crisis as an issue that cannot be put off when thinking about our future.

As an organization you support the Integral Human Development Plan, what is it and why do you support it?

In Argentina, in addition to the pressing need to reduce the levels of poverty and indigence in the midst of an unprecedented pandemic and with a critical macroeconomic situation resulting from external over-indebtedness, there is the historical challenge posed by the climate and ecological crisis.

We are facing a scenario in which medium and long-term planning is crucial, while at the same time we are in a permanent state of emergency that hinders any future planning and projection.

The Integral Human Development Plan is the commitment of different sectors of society, including trade unions from different sides, universities, social movements and environmental organizations, to think of a more equitable and sustainable project for the country.

With the aim of short, medium and long term planning and building broad consensus, the Integral Human Development Plan combines job creation and urban decentralization with an environmental perspective, proposing a logic of decentralized food and energy production and intercommunication through a multimodal transportation network that revalues the role of the railroads.

This initiative is fundamental in this context so that environmentalism is not only a resistance movement, but also has a horizon for which to actively fight.