Interview with Dr. Nicole de Paula: The lack of female voices at the table leads to a deeper crisis

Dr. Nicole de Paula is the founder of Women Leaders for Planetary Health and Inaugural Klaus Töpfer Sustainability Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies in Potsdam, Germany. She was a speaker at parallel session 5: Sustainability, climate protection and resource efficiency in the health system. After the inspiring talk by Dr. Nicole de Paula about planetary health we asked her for a short interview to get more insights into her background and work. Find out more about the linkage of human health and ecosystem health and the important role of women in leadership roles:

During your talk, you stated that health solutions are not only found in hospitals or the health sector itself. Could you give an example in which way other sectors could contribute to health solutions?

De Paula: Human health is intrinsically connected to the health of our natural ecosystems. Although this seems logical, there is still little awareness in public health and within environmental experts about the importance of taking environmental determinants of health into account. New emerging infectious diseases, for example, can be prevented if we take care of nature, meaning combatting, for example, the climate and the biodiversity crises; empowering people in local communities to adapt to the negative effects of environmental change. I presented the concept of planetary health because I think this is a more integrative way to conceive sustainability solutions. The debate of circular economy deserves to discuss the co-benefits for human health, which is still weak.

You highlighted that women are not equally represented in meaningful positions yet. You have founded “Women Leaders for Planetary Health”. Can you briefly explain the idea of this platform and in which ways it contributes to developing women’s leadership?

De Paula: Have you ever seen a girl, or a woman hesitate to take center stage or to speak their mind, even if they have all the knowledge and legitimacy to do so? Women Leaders for Planetary Health (WLPH) is a network, knowledge, and advocacy hub that operates at the intersection between human and ecosystem health, focusing on gender equity. Our mission is to bridge the gaps between environmental and human health through gender-just solutions, ultimately influencing social and behavioral change for planetary health. By reducing the gap that remains for women in leadership roles, we aim to harness their voices to be able to influence just planetary health solutions, focusing on the Global South. We are unique because we are the first organization to concurrently focus on planetary health and gender equality, emphasizing the importance of acting on interlinked themes that remain tackled in a fragmented way: environmental and human health. WLPH addresses two systemic problems directly related to the SDGs: i) under-representation of women in leadership on issues of planetary health ii) and the dominance of businesses that disregard externalities causing dangerous environmental degradation. Both problems undermine key development and human health progress achieved in previous decades with a disproportionate impact on women. The WLPH digital community and capacity development hub breaks down borders and targets those who need it the most: women from the Global South. WPLH tackles inequality, discrimination, and dangerous environmental degradation. We do this by offering an empowering network and mentoring program that is combined with specific planetary health science knowledge. These resources enable us to harness the untapped potential of smart and creative women that would benefit hugely from being a part of a collective that is respectful, shares knowledge, and inspires women to lead with courage.”

Which is your take-home message for the ERF audience?     

De Paula: The lack of female voices at the table leads to a deeper crisis that tends to enhance rather than dismantle existing inequalities. By supporting women of all backgrounds to have an equal chance to get an education, make decisions, control resources, and shape policies, we can transform the world faster and leave no one behind, as aimed by the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Importantly, solutions for the planetary crisis as well as gender inequity exist, but advocacy and empowerment are still needed to propel more women into positions of leadership. Only an integrated approach to crisis response, considering gender equality and a planetary perspective, can lead to a healthy and sustainable future.

Thank you for your answers, Dr. de Paula!

Conducted by Miriam Thiemann, University of Bayreuth, Germany

For those wanting to learn more about Women Leaders for Planetary Health, the website can be found here: https://www.womenleadersforplanetaryhealth.org/