Why the planet needs feminism:
Girls’ education as a solution for climate change.
With climate change and gender inequality tied in a vicious circle in lower-and-middle income countries, girls’ education is one of the most powerful climate solutions we have.
It is an unhappy and by no means random coincidence that the areas worst affected by climate change tend to be located in developing countries. In these areas, the fallout of climate disasters disproportionately affects women and girls.
A 2021 Mala Fund report lays out the various reasons for this inequality. Safety concerns discourage girls from attending temporary schools, sanitation issues prevent girls from going to school on their period in times of drought, and many young girls are married for financial reasons in the wake of natural disasters. After marriage, the likelihood of returning to education is minimal.
Whilst this data paints a grim picture, addressing these inequalities has the potential to trigger widespread positive change in politics, community, and industry.
Communities with more educated women tend to suffer lower death tolls after droughts and floods, as education equips women with critical thinking skills that help them make informed decisions in the face of extreme weather events.
Meanwhile, educating women helps them to understand and exert their sexual rights and practice family planning. This brings about a direct reduction in carbon emissions; in terms of potential emissions avoided, girls’ education has been cited as the most cost-efficient and second most impactful climate solution we have.
On an economic level, education (especially in STEM subjects) enables girls to participate in the transition to a low-carbon economy. Involving girls in subjects that are central to green industries can only strengthen the workforce and increase scope for innovation in these sectors.
Finally, educating girls has a perceptible political effect. There is a positive correlation between a country’s level of female political engagement and its efforts to protect the environment - but to reap the rewards of this phenomenon, it is first necessary to educate future generations of female voters.
It is important to note that many of the barriers keeping girls from education stem from deeply embedded cultural norms. The high dropout rates observed among girls in Botswana can be attributed, at least in part, to the fact that collecting water is traditionally the duty of women and girls. In times of drought, they have to go further to collect water and so are unable to attend school.
So, whilst policy and investment can go some way in addressing educational inequality, a two-pronged approach is essential. The first step is to channel resources in a way that offers girls a seat in the classroom and ensures that they are able to keep it, even when disaster strikes. The second is advocating for gender equality throughout all areas of education, so that societal norms that prevent girls from getting an education can be challenged. In other words, what’s needed is not just education of girls, but education for girls.
With such an approach, there is potential to turn a vicious circle into a virtuous one. Promoting gender equality can better equip communities to endure climate-change related events, and in facilitating girls’ involvement in politics and industry, education can scaffold the development of a more equitable and sustainable future.
By Meg Hollyman
“If current trends continue, by 2025 climate change will be a contributing factor in preventing at least 12.5 million girls from completing their education each year.” (Malala Fund) 2021)
During droughts in Botswana in recent years, 70% of students that dropped out of school were girls; after flooding in Somalia in 2019, girls’ enrolment in school dropped just as boys’ rose. One Pulitzer Centre project even documented a climate-related resurgence in FGM. It is in this fashion that climate change propagates gender inequality, which in turn acts as a limiting factor in the search for sustainable and equitable solutions.
“There is growing evidence that when education teaches girls to lead, participate and make decisions, it results in pro-environmental and sustainable outcomes for the wider community” (Malala Fund)