Beyond scientific descriptions of climate change, we need to leverage our agents of social change to make a difference. According to experts, there is one social demographic that could greatly improve our future climate change resilience: women.
Upon first glance, women and climate change may not seem directly related. Perhaps that’s because climate change has usually been discussed as a series of weather events, with consequences like fires, droughts, and floods. However, when we shift our attention to the social impacts of climate change, women around the globe face worse consequences than men.
As more vulnerable members of society with fewer rights, lower income, and less social mobility, women struggle to rebound from environmental catastrophes. In stressed environments with scarce resources, women are more likely to seek financial security through means such as early marriage, prostitution, or migration.
Developed world contexts show the same disparities as those of the developing world, too. After Hurricane Katrina, women had fewer chances to keep their jobs and a higher percentage of women died in France during the 2003 heat waves than men.
So, when we identify the political leaders responsible for climate action, it’s no surprise that women come to the fore. For instance, countries with a higher average of female parliament members have ratified more environmental treaties. And within communities, women with rights to land use their resources sustainably. Women have traditionally allocated resources throughout their families and communities to plan for shared long-term benefits.
That’s why women’s empowerment and climate resilience are so compatible, that we can no longer view one without the other. As a society, we can connect these dots most efficiently by educating women.
Here are some important educational statistics from Women Deliver that put this issue into perspective:
- Girls are 1.5 times more likely than boys to be denied their right to primary education.
- 63% of illiterate adults are women.
- Women who are better educated have fewer unplanned children, are less likely to marry early, and are more likely to drive national economic growth.
- Women with secondary education can earn nearly two times more income than women with no education
These statistics show that when women are denied their rights, all of society loses out. Climate change is a major source of social unrest and resource scarcity that only exacerbates the negative impacts of these existing educational disparities.
Often overlooked in climate discussions, the global population growth fuels the fire of climate change. Yet, educated women are less likely to have unplanned births, marry later, and they often choose to have fewer children.
Empowering women the freedom to make reproductive health choices through medical access and birth control makes sense as a climate change solution. Fewer people using resources means fewer people emitting carbon into the atmosphere.
Women are also the food providers of the world. This is not just at the kitchen table but in small family farms. In lower-income countries, women produce 60 to 80 percent of the food as smallholders.
Unfortunately, the laws, rights, and prejudices towards women prevent them from independently expanding their operations with equipment, loans or land ownership. Raising women’s status as farmers to improve climate change decision making in countries with long-held biases depends on women’s education.
To improve women’s education, girls deserve safe school environments, with teachers and communities that counteract harmful gender norms. They deserve access to schools and training for marketable skills, especially when they have limitations to access from living in remote, rural locations, in conflict zones, or when they have disabilities.
Through improved education, women are likely to become our world’s most prominent climate change leaders and help us respond to long-term solutions.