Women and girls are disproportionately affected by climate change. Their education could be the key to a greener future.
The UN has labelled 2021 as the seventh hottest year on record. This is already having a catastrophic effect on the lives of women and girls in the developing world. Although accountable for only 21 percent of global carbon emissions, countries in the developing world are affected most severely by climate change, both through their greater exposure to natural disasters and their lack of infrastructure and capital to recover quickly. Short-term effects of this temperature rise are seen in floods, droughts, and typhoons, such as the one experienced by WONDER’s partner in the Philippines.
How climate change puts women and girls’ education at risk
Climate change affects women and girls disproportionately as gender inequalities are exacerbated in times of crises. Consequently, climate change has a dire impact on a girl’s access to education.
Girls are often first to be taken out of school during times of drought, to help families cope. They’re also less likely than boys to attend temporary facilities when their school is damaged, as families worry daughters could experience violence or harassment on their long school commutes. Furthermore, there’s an increased risk of early marriage for girls that makes it unlikely for them to finish schooling, since their dowries can help with insufficient finances caused by jobs lost due to climate change.
Additionally, novel diseases and viruses are forecasted to emerge as the world warms. This means more women and girls will be expected to stay home, as the responsibility of tending to sick family and community members will likely fall on them. This phenomenon has already been observed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
How girls’ education could help fight climate change
On an individual scale, a girl’s education is essential for her personal development. It’s a door to self-sufficiency and greater self-confidence, and provides lasting vocational and life skills. However, educating girls is also vital on a global scale. In 2017, Project Drawdown researched the most effective and long-term solutions to climate change. Educating girls ranked at number 6, whilst more heralded methods such as solar panels and electric vehicles were number 10 and 26, respectively.
Here are four ways girls’ education could help fight climate change:
- Green Leadership – Although globally underrepresented, female leaders are exemplary in their conservation efforts. Women politicians are often more progressive than men when it comes to making sustainable policy for their countries, and women lead the way in making environmentally-friendly decisions in their day-to-day lives. Through education, more women can gain the skills and confidence to share their ideas, conduct research, weigh in on policy decisions, and ultimately become influential leaders, on both a large and small scale
- Greater Inclusivity – Educating women promises a more inclusive approach to finding solutions to climate change. This can be seen through traditional Western forms of knowledge, as a greater number of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) enables women to make new innovations that reduce carbon emissions, and find solutions to climate change that take into consideration women’s lived experience. However, it can also be seen by integrating indigenous expertise around sustainability and caring for the environment that many women have safeguarded and passed down through generations, be it in Asia, Africa, or the Americas. This gendered perspective supports a more inclusive, and thereby more effective, approach to climate change.
- Gender Equality – Education fosters greater gender equality within families, politics, and ultimately society overall, and research has found that countries with higher levels of gender equality also have higher levels of environmental well-being. Not only does gender equality mean society is more likely to address the systemic inequalities that drive climate change, such as the fast fashion industry that relies on the exploitation of women labourers, it also provides a woman with more agency within her own household to make micro-level decisions that are good for the environment.
- Growing Resilience – The Notre Dame Environmental Change Index measures a country’s ability to adapt to climate change and recover from climate disasters by looking at factors such as infrastructure, food insecurity and level of civil conflict. One study has found that for every year of schooling a girl receives, her country’s resilience to climate change grows by 3.2 points. Over time, this resiliency could help reduce the number of deaths that occur due to climate disasters.
Author: Sophie Harris, volunteer at WONDER