You Are My Heroine, Greta!

Gülseren Onanç, the founder of Equality, Justice and Women Platform, wrote about the lessons she has learned from 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg, in relation to the women’s movement for equality in which she has been active for years.

Photo: New York Times

Gülseren Onanç

I must admit I wasn’t sensitive enough about climate change until last year. Not because I did not care about climate change, but because I did not know enough about it. Because I’ve dealt with human suffering until this age, and I did not know otherwise. Because I saw climate change as another field of struggle while women follow their own struggle for equality, or maybe because of my respect for those who are in this struggle, or because of an excuse I made up.

Last year I came to know a young woman and gained a whole new perspective. Greta Thunberg changed me as well as she changed the world. I’ve been watching Greta admiringly ever since she entered my radar. Her story is interesting. At the age of 15, she watches a film about climate change at school and awakens to the knowledge that the future of the Earth is in danger. First she sinks into pessimism. Then she decides to take action. She takes her backpack and holds up a sign saying “do something” in front of the Swedish Parliament. Every Friday, she skips school and continues her resistance across the Parliament. When her family told her not to neglect school, she answers, “What is the point of going to school if there is no future?” She stands up to her family, the school administration and the Swedish Parliament. “Wow, how brave she is, well done!” I said with admiration.

I thought about 15-year-old Gülseren. Those years when I tried to make peace with my gender, Duygu Asena started to publish “Kadınca” magazine and I was crying out against the world. Those years when politics was intertwined with violence but we criticised the system fearlessly in school debates. My parents were libertarian, but they had limits. And all of a sudden, September 12 coup d’etat went down few days before the schools started. During the military coup and my subsequent high school years, living under curfew,  being deprived of our freedom, had left deep marks in my soul. My early youth when I knew we would be punished if we engaged in politics and transcended our limits and got to know the feeling of fear mixed with shame after seeing my friends who were subjected to torture. Yet I had always dreamed of being a fearless woman.

Greta is more fortunate than us and she is aware that it comes with a responsibility. She knows the difficulties active citizens have in poor and underdeveloped countries. She reminds us the responsibility of the fortunate.

I’ve been trying to support women’s struggle for equality for as long as Greta’s age and I see that we could not win for losing. Our struggle for women’s rights in our country in decades did not achieve what Greta has done for climate in a single year. Yes, there is a deep-rooted discrimination of women in this country but I can’t help but say we should have found more effective ways. I think it would be a good opportunity to resituate ourselves in view of Greta’s success. I want to write down the lessons I have learned from Greta and make myself a checklist, because I have learned a lot from her.


Doing something: Greta is an activist who believes that thinking is not enough, and that to change something requires action. At the age of 15, she skipped school every Friday and chose to strike alone in front of the Swedish Parliament. She participated in climate summits in Europe and the USA, mobilised large masses and became a spokesperson for climate activists. She took a year off from school to do all this. She confirms Hannah Arendt, who says, “Every person on earth has the capacity to start something new, that is, to take action.”

Instilling hope: With the impact of social media, our pessimism about the future is more than our hope. As the level of education rises, our hope for the future dwindles. However, the aim of education is to cultivate active individuals who deliver solutions. An educated person understands the problem and tries to be a part of the solution. When Greta became aware of the climate change, she felt pessimistic at first, but then went after a solution. The solution is not always in politics. We are even at a time when politics and politicians are at the heart of the problem. We need active individuals like Greta who ask questions, find solutions, organise and rise up in order to protect our future and to cherish hope. Greta tells us that hope is contagious and that the only way to create hope is “to  do something .”

Revolting against patriarchal thinking: When Greta says, “Change the system not the climate,” she actually opposes a system that has prevailed for centuries: a male dominated world system. We will not be able to stop climate change without changing this mentality that asserts dominance over nature, women, immigrants, children and all kinds of “others” and wants to maintain this domination. I don’t know how much Greta is aware of this, but her struggle also contributes to our struggle for gender equality. She asks for accountability more bravely than us, she calls to duty and she rebels.

Greta showed me the way and gave me hope. She became my role model, my heroine.

Inspired by the question of “What is the point of struggle for equality if there is no future in the world?”, I decided to fight for climate change. Already, the struggle for gender equality and the struggle for climate change are looking for a path within the same world order. A world in which people live equally and fairly with all their differences, protecting their tree, air and land.

Before Greta, I thought wisdom comes with age. But it is not like that. While years could not teach anyone anything, others do not need years to be wise.

Thank you for opening up a new way for me, my heroine Greta.

25 Ekim 2019