OPEN SPACE REPORT: Why is intersectionality important when addressing the climate and environmental crisis in South Africa?


On 19 February 2022, African Climate Alliance in collaboration with Project 90 by 2030, hosted an open space dialogue, to bring young people between the ages of 14 and 35 to discuss the important question: Why is intersectionality important when addressing the climate and environmental crisis in South Africa?

Gathered in the historic Ashley Kriel Hall at Community House in Salt River Cape Town, 27 people (excluding facilitators) joined for a day of important discussions, learning, and community-building. Youth were encouraged to learn about intersectionality whilst engaging through their lived experiences. Youth were challenged to discuss what they believe needs to change to create a just future, and how they can use intersectionality as a framework to create solutions that can be implemented at various levels.

Ahead of the event, the organizing team had the following objectives:

  • Create a safe and inclusive environment for attendees to feel comfortable to share their lived experiences and opinion
  • To enable and empower our participants so that they can reach beyond their expectations and open up new horizons of opportunity.
  • To enable and empower our participants so that they can reach beyond their expectations and open up new horizons of opportunity.
  • To gain fuller understanding of Climate Justice and COP26, and Get messages for COP leaders if the group is willing.
  • Determine whether the information the group has accessed on climate change in the past is enough and useful, or if more accessible information is needed.
  • Get an understanding of what kind of resources are needed in the future to make climate change more accessible
  • Increase confidence in attendees in owning and telling the global south Stories of climate impact
  • Get a sense of who would be interested to move forward in developing resources in 2022


– Mitchelle Mhaka
– Gabriel Klaasen
– Daniel Robinson

Event manager, support and co-facilitation: Sarah Robyn Farrell
Event support & door management: Lorna Fuller
Researcher and data collection for UCT: Noma Makhonco


The day before the event, a number of items were purchased for the name tag table and intersectionality game. Some of the various flip chart papers including the goals, agreements and questions for the Open Space were also set up beforehand, however time ran out and some of the flip chart papers needed to be finalized during set up and breaks.

Facilitators arrived between 7:30 and 7:45 to

  • open the hall
  • set up chairs
  • put up educational posters (posters on climate change, climate justice and intersectionality in English, Afrikaans and isiXhosa)
  • set up the name labeling and registration table in the foyer
  • ground with each other and get on the same page

Set up was mostly smooth at first, however the catering company arrived late and there was a mix up in the order meaning that there was unfortunately no tea, coffee and breakfast for the participants. Luckily there was enough juice and snacks for the participants to enjoy.

The name tag and registration tables were placed into the entrance hall for attendees to make name tags with music on in the background. This worked well, However, a number of attendees were very late whilst some others arrived very early. Because the breakfast was not available immediately people were also unsure of what to do once their name tags were completed. There were also a large number of no-shows which meant that we had to reconfigure the set up from the expected 40 participants to 20. Despite starting 30 minutes later than scheduled, people still arrived thereafter.

In future the following considerations can be made:

  • The catering company must arrive at the same time as facilitators to set up. Setup should not be done while participants are arriving. Tea and coffee are a must
  • Changing the time to later if it is a Saturday or public holiday. It seems that an 8:30 arrival may be a difficult ask
  • Stress to participants the importance of being on time
  • Consider ways of mitigating no shows such as clearer communication and follow ups with potential attendees


The group was welcomed in a circle by the facilitators, setting up the space and the tone for the day. This included:

  • A general welcome and introduction to the theme of the day
  • General housekeeping rules
  • A grounding meditation to clear out the frustrations of a late start
  • A physical warm up in the form of a song to help participants come into the space with presence
  • A round of introductions using physical actions to represent mood / character
  • An invocation to bring awareness to people coming from different cultures, races and classes and different backgrounds: “Milk and Honey have different colors, but they share the same house peacefully”.
  • Facilitator introductions

Following the introduction, the group was introduced to the goals and agreements:


  • Build Community
  • Build common understanding on climate justice
  • Raise awareness on the upcoming COP and climate injustices in South Africa
  • Connect with each other and building inclusion
  • Firstly people were given the opportunity to be able to express themselves in their language – someone can help translate
  • Avoid put downs of self or other
  • Be willing to try new things
  • Play at your edge
  • Be willing to ask questions – no question is too small
  • Practice care for your impact

Others were also given the opportunity to add goals and agreements.

This was followed by a session of milling whereby the group walked around to music and as the music stopped would talk with a partner using a given question. The aim was to allow people to feel more comfortable in a group setting and start talking about the thematic subject matter of the session. The prompt questions included:

Introduce yourselves: name, what’s good in your life at this moment?
What is your understanding of climate change?
What is your understanding of climate justice?
What is your understanding of intersectionality?

The milling was followed by a short group debrief in which the participants shared the value of the session. Some reflections included:

  • That the milling helped start the thinking process and make the participants feel more comfortable in the space
  • That many people didn’t necessarily understand the term intersectionality before coming into the space but were starting to get a better understanding of what it might mean
  • That participants valued hearing what others’ understanding was of the questions asked
  • Some also started to reflect on the questions themselves, reflecting on the pure scientific definition of climate change vs the more holistic definition that takes into account social implications and broader narratives
Session one was finalized with an intention tree, in which participants were given the opportunity to write the intentions that they have for themselves in the space and of the space itself. Participants were given the option to say their intention out loud to the group if they felt they wanted to.



BREAK/STRETCH/SNACKS: A short 20minute break allowed for sandwiches and tea prepared by infinity cafe and further networking of the attendees


Session two was opened with the playing of an intersectionality game:

  • The game saw one person volunteer as ‘climate change’ who stood in the middle
  • The rest of the participants in a circle around ‘climate change’ were given boards to hold with various societal aspects or issues displayed. Some examples include:
    • Housing & infrastructure
    • Water
    • Biodiversity
    • Education
    • Racism
    • Physical and mental health etc.
  • Participants were then asked which of the aspects or issues were directly linked or affected by climate change
  • Using wool to illustrate, a web was created between climate change and all the various issues and aspects
  • By the end not only were all issues and aspects linked to climate change but also to each other and as climate change moved, everyone in the circle was pulled in its direction thus showcasing the way that climate change affects every aspect of life.

The game was followed by a formal introduction and explanation of intersectionality, aided by our resource developed for the purpose of the session and accompanying digital campaign. Resource can be found here.

The facilitators then led the attendees through the principles of Open Space and Marketplace, as well as an explanation of how the marketplace would work.

The Market place was split into two rounds broken up by a 30 minute lunch break.
Round 1: What are some social, economic, and environmental injustices that you notice intersect in your communities?
Round 2: What are ways we can reimagine an intersectional and just future?
(How do we want society to use intersectionality as a framework for driving change?)

Due to time constraints, all feedback on the sessions was left for the harvest and debrief at the end. The most time was given to session two in order to facilitate solution-driven thinking.

Some of the topics discussed in the marketplace rounds included:

  • Gender equity and Afro-eco feminism
  • Co-creating climate solutions with local communities and a whole government approach to sustainable development and climate justice
  • Redistribution of resources including money and land
  • A just and equal society where everyone owns the same amount of everything
  • Alternatives from capitalism: people power and public participation
  • Coming together as a community to unite and find ways of fighting for equality in education + how it can be accessible and practical

Marketplace group notes can be accessed here:


Throughout the day, time was a constant difficulty, This meant that the marketplace debriefs and final harvest sessions were combined into one. This is not ideal but it did still work out. In future the programme must realistically include the time it takes to not only explain each marketplace but have people suggest topics which are then combined into various groups for cohesive discussion.

The group gathered in a circle again and individuals were invited to share insights or other results from their conversations with the rest of the large group.

The session was ended off with a human soundscape, in which everyone could contribute a sound to a growing orchestra symbolizing the part that one plays in the greater movement for climate justice and also how overall climate change and intersectionality can be confusing and overwhelming but that it is okay to focus on what you can do, your skill, community etc. A video can be seen here.

Some Points Reflected from the Harvest Session:

  • When we view climate change through an intersectional lens, it becomes so big and overwhelming that it is difficult to solve. However, if we don’t address all the intersections people will be left behind and the solutions to won’t be effective
  • One doesn’t have to expert in everything but must be aware of the intersections with your focus
  • Women activists are often sidelined or painted as angry which takes away from their value and hurts the cause
  • It is important to learn about the various problems facing communities to be able to think about and actualize solutions.
  • As youth we must come together to work in communities and put theory into practice. Campaigners and facilitators could be trained to lead facilitation in communities (this was accompanied by an offer of assistance by Sandile)
  • When first playing the intersectionality game, I wondered how all of these things intersect. But now I will take some of this into consideration at my enviro club and clean ups. It was all eye opening and makes me want to collaborate more going forward
  • The idea of indigenous development that considers ubuntu vs. extractive development is important and shows that people do want development but it is a certain type of development: one that isn’t at the expense of health, clean water and air
  • Currently a lot of community consultative processes are done for show show, it is very important that these processes start to have a bottom up approach. Are led by communities rather than be tick box exercises
  • Individualism vs. community (ubuntu) & indigenous knowledge
  • We need education resources that are localized and not disconnected from the lived experiences of communities
  • On important panels about climate change / where government decisions are made, people with real lived experiences of impacts should be represented
  • Decolonisation: educational resources also have to take into account educational level, university graduates vs average community members. When things are taken back to community members, the context, language must be considered and also how to bring people in by making it as accessible as possible
  • People are taking away the importance of intersectionality as it related to climate change
  • Social equity must be considered and resources back to the people
  • Desire to take what is learned here and take it out to community, friends, family
  • An appreciation for all the various conversations and perspectives of climate change
  • The importance of listening. There is a lot of understandable anger which is why spaces like this are important because “we can’t explain in our daily lives why we are angry and then focus on solutions.”
  • Interesting to have conversations oscillate between climate, social and economic issues and always coming back to climate
  • See the anger mentioned more as passion. It was so fruitful to see different perspectives come out in discussions and the different topics
  • Highlight was discussing Afro Ecofeminism and getting to know how different people feel about climate change
  • Interesting how many questions already pop up from the start and more pop up along the way. The smaller groups give way for people to choose topics and find solutions. Might not find solutions today but can start small, do more research and informing communities trying to make it come together
  • Great to hear what other people have to say of what we want the world to be
    People broke out of silos and started thinking broader. If people focus on individual focus but as part of a collective, can build a tapestry towards collective change
  • Something like climate change is a super wicked problem which requires social, economic and environmental efforts. It is great to understand one’s own positionality and then decide how to contribute
  • Grateful for such spaces but need more people to engage
  • Great to engage with like minded individuals and be able to take this back to research
  • Thanks and gratitude. Discovered that there is a lot we can do to engage in active participation.
  • Being part of a space like this means going in the right direction
  • Education is needed to connect dots: sometimes people don’t always see when things are environmental injustice. To see the capitalist lense as destructive. Look to indigenous knowledge systems which respect land. Need to have unlearning so we know we don’t have to subscribe to capitalism
  • Climate justice is an important topic but it is also understandable that many people have more immediate worries like needing food
  • Beautiful space to hear other people’s perspectives. I didn’t realize climate change was such an intersectional issue

This project has been made in partnership with The Canada Fund for Local Initiatives.

More To Explore


Open Letter to the African Union

The Context In the lead up to COP27, the 27th United Nations Climate Change Conference taking place in Egypt in November, over 700 youth from