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Watch now: Wesleyan student addresses UN panel | Local Education - Energy And Water Development Corp

Watch now: Wesleyan student addresses UN panel | Local Education


BLOOMINGTON — An Illinois Wesleyan University student was able to make an argument to the United Nations on Friday for implementing increased rainwater collection.

Victoria Ballesteros-Gonzalez, a freshman from the Canary Islands in Spain, spoke on a panel for the seventh annual International Day of Women and Girls in Science. This year, the U.N.’s conference, held virtually, focused on issues of water economics, including water scarcity, pollution and the impact of climate change.

“We need to capture rainwater, again, as we used to do. It’s one of the least expensive measures we can take,” Ballesteros-Gonzalez said on the panel. 

She was invited through her work as coordinator of the Spanish Section of Girls in Science 4 SDGs International Platform. She has been active in climate change activism for years, even as a teenager. 

Ballesteros-Gonzalez is also a Young Member of the New York Academy of Sciences. It was through the academy that she first got involved in the International Day of Women and Girls in STEM. Since then she has at least watched every year.






Victoria Ballesteros-Gonzalez

Victoria Ballesteros-Gonzalez, a freshman at Illinois Wesleyan University, speaks via video link to a United Nations panel on water rights during the International Day of Women and Girls in Science on Friday. 



Connor Wood



Women’s rights and the water crisis are tied as pollution and water scarcity increase, in part driven by climate change, panelists said. Many of the speakers highlighted the continued role women play in obtaining and using water in much of the developing world.  

“Water is a women’s rights crisis and it is a human rights crisis,” said Owen Bonnici, minister of the Republic of Malta for Equality, Research and Innovation.


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Ballesteros-Gonzalez’ native Canary Islands, located off the coast of Africa in the North Atlantic, are much closer to Morocco than mainland Spain. Growing up, she saw the water crisis playing out on the African mainland, as well as on some of the Canary Islands.

It is frustrating to see so little being done about it, she said, because solutions do exist.

“We already have (solutions), so now is the time to start acting,” she told The Pantagraph.

People are dying from lack of access to clean water, Ballesteros-Gonzalez said, and that will only worsen. She and the other young adults on her panel emphasized the need for quick action.

“Action needs to be taken now,” she said. “We have to reshape water economics.”



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One of her co-panelists, Alma Nordenstram, a Girls in Science 4 SDGs International Platform peer-mentor from Sweden, noted that problems like health, water scarcity and economics are often discussed separately from each other. She said solutions need to address all of the issues together, tying it back to health crises like the COVID-19 pandemic. 

That is part of why Ballesteros-Gonzalez is studying economics at IWU: She said she wants to be better prepared to convince people that making changes now will save lives, and will also work economically.

“I want to show that to be sustainable is affordable,” she said.


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The panel was split into several sections, with Ballesteros-Gonzalez in the second group, which featured youth leaders in water and climate change activism. The first group focused on comments from governmental groups and leaders, while the third group came from nonprofit and science backgrounds. 

“(The second group is) bringing the voice of youth and civil society to the fore, with a focus on water scarcity water solution and its impacts on our health and society,” said moderator Francisco Duarte Lopes, Portugal’s ambassador to the U.N. 

Ballesteros-Gonzalez said she is lucky that she has not been discriminated as a woman studying in STEM. Part of that comes from Wesleyan’s environment, she said, as she has many classmates and professors who are women. That is not the case everywhere.

“I know that a lot of my classmates in Spain are not in the same situation,” she said.






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Olivia Cohn, a 13-year-old climate activist and coordinator of the One Billion Voices campaign, speaks to a virtual United Nations panel via video link during the International Day of Women and Girls in Science on Friday. 



Connor Wood



She is proud to be a women in STEM, but also wants to push back against stereotypes on the personalities of people, especially women in STEM, she said. Women working in their fields should feel free to dress up and be bubbly and outgoing, she said.

Speaking to The Pantagraph on Thursday, she noted other barriers that can keep people’s perspectives from being heard in discussions around climate change.


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“If I didn’t speak English, I wouldn’t be able to join this panel,” she said.

That can especially be a problem for women from developing countries, whose voices most need to be heard, Ballesteros-Gonzalez said. Women often have a first-hand view of the water crises, she told the panel. 

“So when we talk, listen,” she said. 

The conference can be watched on the U.N. TV website. 

Contact Connor Wood at (309)820-3240. Follow Connor on Twitter: @connorkwood



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