2021 Right Livelihood Laureates mobilise communities against violence and climate change
The 2021 Right Livelihood Laureates are leaders in advancing the rights of women and girls, environmental protection and reclaiming Indigenous rights through mobilising communities and empowering grassroots initiatives.
Hailing from Cameroon, Russia, Canada and India, this year’s change-makers show that lasting change is built on communities banding together. In the face of the worsening climate crisis, powerful governmental and corporate interests, and even a terrorist threat, the 2021 Laureates prove that solidarity is key to a better future for all.
The 2021 Laureates are:
Marthe Wandou (Cameroon) “for building a model of community-based child protection in the face of terrorist insurgency and gender-based violence in the Lake Chad region of Cameroon;”
Vladimir Slivyak (Russia) “for his defence of the environment and for helping to ignite grassroots opposition to the coal and nuclear industries in Russia;”
Freda Huson (of the Wet’suwet’en people, Canada) “for her fearless dedication to reclaiming her people’s culture and defending their land against disastrous pipeline projects;”
Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment (India) “for their innovative legal work empowering communities to protect their resources in the pursuit of environmental democracy in India.”
“The 2021 Right Livelihood Laureates are courageous mobilisers who show what peoples’ movements can achieve,” said Ole von Uexkull, Executive Director at Right Livelihood.
“In the face of the escalating climate and environmental crises, senseless violence, and blatant human rights abuses, they successfully engage for a better future through solidarity and organisation. These grassroots activists are not just resisting but actively mobilising entire communities to claim their rights, becoming agents of change where governments fail,” von Uexkull added.
Wandou is the first person from Cameroon to receive the Right Livelihood Award.
Founded in 1980, the Right Livelihood Award honours and supports courageous people solving global problems. Each of the four Laureates will receive a cash prize of 1 million SEK (around 100,000 EUR or 115,000 USD). Besides the prize money, the award entails long-term support to highlight and expand Laureates’ work.
In 2021, a record number of 206 nominees from 89 countries were considered. Previous Laureates include Edward Snowden (US), Dr Denis Mukwege (DRC), Greta Thunberg (Sweden), and Ales Bialiatski jointly with Human Rights Centre Viasna (Belarus).
The 2021 Laureates will be honoured during a televised Award Presentation in Stockholm on Wednesday, December 1.
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Find more information on the Laureates here.
Photos and videos of the new Laureates can be downloaded here.
Short biographies of the 2021 Laureates
Marthe Wandou (Cameroon)
Jurist Marthe Wandou is a Cameroonian gender and peace activist who has worked to prevent and fight sexual violence against children, particularly girls, as well as care for survivors of such violence since the 1990s. Through her organisation Action Locale pour un Développement Participatif et Autogéré (ALDEPA), which she founded in 1998, Wandou has supported the wellbeing of girls through a holistic approach based on education, psychosocial care and legal assistance.
More than 50,000 girls have benefited so far from ALDEPA’s work, which is rooted in mobilising entire communities, especially through the involvement of parents, children and community leaders. The organisation has assisted with the gradual eradication of the practice of early marriage. It has also provided school and life skills support, and capacity building for children and child protection actors. ALDEPA has helped families prosecute cases of rape, abduction and physical violence, as well.
Wandou emphasises psychosocial support for recovering from trauma and assistance with reintegration for victims of sexual violence and abduction. These have been especially important in Wandou’s work with refugees and internally displaced persons affected by the Boko Haram extremist group in the Far North Region of Cameroon.
Operating in a context marked by harmful cultural practices and insecurity, Wandou has emerged as a courageous leader in fighting sexual violence and championing the wellbeing of girls and women in Cameroon and the Lake Chad Basin.
Place of Birth: Kaélé, Cameroon
Date of Birth: October 15, 1963
Education: University of Yaoundé (License in Private Law), Catholic University of Central Africa (Master’s in Project Management), University of Antwerp, Belgium (Gender Studies)
Quote by Marthe Wandou
“The Right Livelihood Award will give us the courage to continue what we are doing. It will also help us have visibility and call on more people to join us in supporting victims and promoting women’s and children’s rights.”
Vladimir Slivyak (Russia)
Vladimir Slivyak is one of Russia’s most committed and knowledgeable environmentalists, who has been spearheading important grassroots campaigns against environmentally damaging practices for decades. He has stopped projects related to the exploitation of fossil fuels, the use of nuclear power and coal, and the shipment of radioactive waste from abroad.
As co-chairman and co-founder of Ecodefense, one of Russia’s leading environmental organisations for decades, Slivyak has worked extensively on reducing environmental risks, mitigating the climate crisis and promoting renewable energy in Russia.
Led by Slivyak, Ecodefense was the first environmental group in Russia to start an anti-coal campaign in 2013, which helped to empower local communities suffering from the impacts of coal mining and transportation. Connecting local communities around the country and information sharing led to a rapid growth of anti-coal protests in various parts of Russia.
Slivyak has also opposed Russia’s promotion of nuclear energy both at home and abroad. These enormous successes have proven that even in authoritarian Russia, grassroots activities can effectively challenge government-backed projects.
In recent years, Slivyak and Ecodefense have been targeted by Russian authorities for their work. However, Slivyak has stayed the course heartened by the growing influence of young climate activists. Standing with them, he is committed to ushering in a cleaner and more sustainable future for Russia and the world.
Place of Birth: Kaliningrad, Russia (USSR at the time)
Date of Birth: July 30, 1973
Quote by Vladimir Slivyak
“I’ve spent my life in the environmental movement, and it’s really a big honour for me to get an award like this. The Right Livelihood Award provides more resources for the environmental and human rights protection work that my organisation is leading.”
Freda Huson (Wet’suwet’en people, Canada)
Freda Huson is a female chief (Dzeke ze’) from the Wet’suwet’en people in Canada. She has been a leading advocate for Indigenous communities reconnecting with their land and reclaiming control, including deciding over construction projects such as pipelines running through their territories.
Realising the importance of living on ancestral land, in 2010 Huson moved into a log cabin on her people’s territory in Talbeetskwa, along the Morice River in British Columbia. Since then, she has been the coordinator of the Unist’ot’en camp that now includes a centre for people seeking to reconnect with the land and heal from colonial trauma.
The Unist’ot’en camp also emerged as the main gathering place for people opposing the construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline, which would transport shale gas across British Columbia. In 2020 Canadian authorities carried out a raid on an established checkpoint leading to the camp, which set off nationwide protests. While Huson’s actions have set the pipeline project back by years, it remains under construction.
Huson’s holistic approach to reclaiming Indigenous culture, land and rights stands in stark contrast to the horrendous crimes committed against Indigenous people in Canada, which have increasingly come to light in recent years. Huson has brought cultural renewal by leading Indigenous people back to their land.
Place of Birth: Smithers, British Columbia, Canada
Date of Birth: May 24, 1964
Education: Business Administration Certificate
Quote by Freda Huson
“The work I’ve been recognised for is teaching people our ways, which we are taught from a very young age: to take care of the land that sustains us. What this award means to my people is that it’s going to be more powerful to join forces with many others around the world with the same goal: to protect the land, protect the environment and make sure that people are treated fairly.”
Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment (India)
Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment (LIFE) is an organisation working to protect the environment in India through the creative use of law and legal processes. LIFE works with communities through a grassroots approach: it assists and empowers often vulnerable populations to stand up against powerful interests and have a voice in the decision-making process, while also strengthening institutions and reforming laws.
Noticing a lack of judicial access regarding environmental issues, LIFE was founded by lawyers Ritwick Dutta and Rahul Choudhary in 2005. Today, the organisation’s attorneys are among India’s leading public interest lawyers. LIFE has helped communities fight against some of India’s most significant environmental threats: the construction of ecologically destructive projects in violation of the law, preventing deforestation and making industrial polluters pay for the damage caused to the environment and public health.
One of the early successes of LIFE has been a case against the British mining company Vedanta in the state of Odisha, which became a precedent-setting judgment. India’s Supreme Court recognised that the local community’s consent was required for such a project to commence.
Since then, LIFE has continued to stand up against powerful interests threatening the wellbeing of people and nature, securing better environmental protections for communities across India.
Headquarters: New Delhi, India
Founded in: 2005
Quote by LIFE Founder Ritwick Dutta
“We are extremely thrilled to receive the Right Livelihood Award. This is our first international prize, and it means a lot to us and to all the local groups across India that we are supporting. The Award will help us increase the impact of our work, empowering more people to protect nature and livelihoods.”
About Right Livelihood
Established in 1980, Right Livelihood honours and supports courageous people solving global problems. Housed under the umbrella of a foundation, Right Livelihood is a courage-powered community for social change committed to peace, justice and sustainability for all.
Each year, Right Livelihood highlights change-makers through an Award. To date, 186 Laureates from 73 countries have received the distinction. By recognising the actions of brave visionaries and building impactful connections around the world, Right Livelihood boosts urgent and long-term social change.
However, the work of Right Livelihood goes beyond only presenting the Award: they provide these change-makers with life-long support. Right Livelihood is a megaphone and a shield for the Laureates: raising their profile, providing them protection when their lives and liberty are in danger, and educating people on their innovative solutions.
Right Livelihood is headquartered in Stockholm, with offices in Geneva and Zurich. The Foundation has Special Consultative Status with the UN Economic and Social Council.
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