Education can bring women into the conversation on climate change

The twenty-seventh annual Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27) wrapped up mid-November, and while there were many noteworthy takeaways from this global conference, one thing is certain: women were notably absent. 

Over 100 heads of state were present at COP27, but only seven were women. Further, less than 34 percent of negotiators present were female, which is actually a decrease in female representation since 2018. 

This underrepresentation is troubling for a number of reasons. It is well-established that women are more vulnerable to climate change impacts than men, since they comprise the vast majority of the world’s one billion people living in poverty. The UN estimates that roughly 80 percent of climate refugees are women. Not only are women disproportionately harmed, but recent evidence suggests that female political leaders are more effective in implementing more stringent environmental policies. 

Thus, the lack of female voices at COP27 highlights an even greater need for women’s education. 

Women face the direct impacts of climate change far more often than men 

As climate change increases instability, girls are the first to be pulled out of school and forced to marry younger. Reports of gender-based violence also skyrocket under climate stress, and women shoulder greater burdens to secure food, water, and fuel for their families. 

These burdens exacerbate the already unequal share of domestic responsibilities borne by women. The UN Women estimates that women’s unpaid care and domestic work is up to 39 percent of a country’s GDP and growing under climate change pressure, as it is more difficult to grow food and get water as weather patterns change. As climate change heats up, women are pushed to their limits, and often, pushed out of school – the very thing they need to secure a place in the conversation about climate change.

Educating women can help give women and girls the tools they require to survive under climate pressures 

It is important to note that educating women is not the solution to climate change. Providing education for women and girls, purely as a means to a more sustainable end, is problematic. Women already take on more responsibility than men in fighting climate change as primary providers of food and water for their families, and as they are overrepresented as a proportion of the world’s poor. Seventy percent of the world’s poor are women, while between fifty to eighty percent of world’s food production is carried out by women, making them more dependent on natural resources and climate. Thus, governments cannot be absolved of their responsibility in creating environmentally-sound policy

Educating women matters because women matter. But, women have long been excluded from conversations about climate. Education is an extremely beneficial tool for women’s more effective adaptation to changing climate conditions, and for empowering them to access leadership roles where they can have influence over climate policies. 

Educated women are better prepared to protect themselves and their families and to make environmentally-conscious choices that reduce carbon footprint. They have access to the knowledge they require to develop and operate sustainable businesses, especially in regard to sustainable agriculture. 

Educating women gives them more opportunity to contribute to diverse governance and policy, since they represent different needs and have new ideas as to how to meet those needs. They can build community coalitions to take action for climate resilience and take the lead on local and global policy that challenges the status quo. Educated women can express their needs and the needs of their country in national and international leadership roles at conferences such as COP. 

Women are integral to our homes, our families, our communities, our economies, and our world. We need educated women on the front lines of the fight against climate change and the fight for adaptation. Leaving half of the population out of the conversation, while simultaneously relying on them to shoulder the increasing burden of the climate crisis, is in itself unsustainable. 

Author: Sarah Finkel