Educated girls are the answer to reversing climate change.
Where do we start?
This is the question that usually comes up when addressing the climate crisis. We discuss reducing emissions, increasing the use of renewable resources and improving energy efficiency but many fail to recognize that climate change and gender inequity are intersectional issues.
Around the world, women and girls are often the ones responsible for managing and protecting the land that directly provides food for their families. When the environment changes, girls’ education suffers—an estimated 4 million girls globally will be prevented from accessing education in 2021 due to weather-related disruptions. Educated girls are the answer to reversing climate change.
High-quality education for girls will create future leaders with the skills and knowledge to affect change around them. Research shows that countries with more female leadership have more robust climate policies and stricter carbon emission standards, proving that having more women in power will yield positive results for our planet. Girls are leading inspired and courageous climate initiatives around the world, and providing them with equitable opportunities to succeed in life will result in stronger solutions to the climate crisis.
In the fight against gender inequity, aid and attention are often focused on what we call the “developing world.” Government institutions and non-profits will step in and deem regions with fewer resources and economic advantages as needing to be changed for the better.
In reality, gender inequity and climate degradation are major issues in all countries. Wealthy nations are not only among the biggest polluters and contributors to climate change; they are also in need of wide-reaching reform and fresh policymaking to be safer and more supportive for girls. Progress for women and girls globally has been hindered significantly by the COVID-19 pandemic—and now more than ever, we should all take a moment to reflect on how our own countries can evolve to achieve gender equity and in turn improve our world.
I am fortunate to work closely with schools and community-based organizations throughout the United States, Latin America, Central Asia and Africa in my role at the international non-profit Global G.L.O.W. What I hear from local staff and girls themselves is the same everywhere. Girls need better educational opportunities. Girls need access to the formal economy. Girls need proper sexual agency and reproductive health education. Girls need to be valued, respected and given the space to lead. No matter the country, the city, the GDP or demographics, girls need more and deserve better.
Today, not a single country in the world has achieved gender equality. The United Nations recently highlighted that out of 193 member countries, only 26 are led by women. How can girls envision themselves as future leaders when there are still so few examples of women in power? And when women do rise to decision-making positions are they able to advance systematic change for other women and girls in their countries?
Even after Angela Merkel’s 16-year reign as Germany’s leader, German women continue to earn less than men, significantly so after becoming mothers. According to a Bertelsmann Foundation report, a German woman’s lifetime earnings decrease by up to 62 percent after having children, while it has virtually no effect on a German man’s earnings.
Now, where do we start? We start with girls. We stop drawing that line between “developed” and “developing”—because every country, no matter how powerful, and every town, no matter how small, has gender inequities that need to be addressed.
As a global society, we can unite our efforts to uplift the voices of all girls and women and uphold their universal rights in order to fight the climate crisis and create a better world for all. We can donate to girl-focused causes and we can mentor and guide young women in our lives. No matter where we live, we can do the work to shed our own unconscious biases and recognize the leadership of women and femmes as powerful and worthy.
What will you do to make a difference for the future of girls in your country?