5 Ways Gender Equality Can Help Us Fight Climate Change
Research continues to show that investing in women and girls is a primary driver in climate action that is inclusive and leaves no one behind. Take the New York Times best-selling book Drawdown as just one example. Published by the nonprofit climate research group Project Drawdown, the 2017 climate action manifesto details the 100 most compelling solutions to global temperature rise — and two of its top 10 suggestions relate to empowering women and girls.
“Climate change is not gender neutral,” researchers noted in Drawdown. “Due to existing inequalities, women and girls are disproportionately vulnerable to its impacts, from disease to natural disaster.” Indeed, 80 percent of the people most affected by climate change are women, according to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). Women make up the majority of the world’s poor, and their livelihoods are more likely to depend on natural resources threatened by climate change.
“At the same time, women and girls are pivotal to addressing global warming successfully — and to humanity’s overall resilience,” Drawdown researchers insist, a conclusion shared by influential climate action organizations ranging from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Still not so sure? Read on for just five ways gender equality can help the global community fight climate change.
Education equips girls and women to fight climate change
Research tells us that girls who are better educated earn more money over their lifetimes, are less likely to marry as children, and have more control over the trajectory of their lives. Further, groups including UNICEF and the World Bank note a multiplier effect in achieving gender parity in education: Better-educated women tend to have fewer, healthier children, and they’re more likely to send those children to school.
“Education also shores up resilience and equips girls and women to face the impacts of climate change,” according to Project Drawdown researchers. Better educated women are “more effective stewards” of natural resources, and “have greater capacity to cope with shocks from natural disasters and extreme weather events,” the researchers say.
Overall, increasing gender parity in education has the potential to reduce or sequester 25.8 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions by 2050, according to estimates from Project Drawdown. For perspective, that’s more than seven times greater than the current annual carbon emissions of the entire European Union.
Agency over family planning builds resilience worldwide
“Population interacts with the primary drivers of emissions: production and consumption, largely fossil-fueled,” Project Drawdown researchers noted in an updated guidance published earlier this year. That means giving women more agency over family planning — the number of children they wish to have, and when they wish to have them — could send ripple effects across the global economy with a massive potential to reduce emissions.
For example, today an estimated 214 million women would like to avoid pregnancy but do not have access to modern contraception. In 27 countries, married women still need their husband’s consent to access contraceptives, according to Global Health 50/50, an initiative devoted to achieving gender parity in healthcare. But this isn’t an issue for the developing world alone: In the U.S., roughly 45 percent of pregnancies are unintended, according to Project Drawdown.
Think of it this way: The world is now home to nearly 7.8 billion people, a figure that could reach anywhere from 9.4 billion to 10.1 billion by 2050. Unlocking family planning investments in step with what women wish to see will keep those estimates on the lower end, reducing the potential global population by 1 billion over the next 30 years and cutting carbon equivalent emissions by nearly 60 gigatons, according to Project Drawdown estimates. That’s over 10 times more than the current annual emissions of the United States — making a clear connection between this crucial human rights issue and the global quest to conquer climate change.
Girls and women hold the key to sustainable smallholder farming
On average, women make up 43 percent of the agricultural labor force, according to Project Drawdown. “Even though they farm as capably and efficiently as men, inequality in assets, inputs and support means women produce less on the same amount of land,” the group writes in Drawdown.
Considering women produce up to 80 percent of food crops in developing markets, the inequalities they face put countless communities at risk, particularly as we are challenged to increase agricultural output by 60 to 70 percent from current levels to meet food demand by 2050.
If all women farmers had equal access to productive resources, their yields would rise by 20 to 30 percent, and up to 150 million people would no longer go hungry, according to Project Drawdown estimates. Getting more yield from less land also reduces the need for deforestation, which could reduce up to 1.36 gigatons in carbon equivalent emissions over the next 30 years, the group projects. This represents more than a quarter of current annual emissions from the global agricultural sector.
Women’s leadership puts climate solutions at the fore
“Women are often responsible for gathering and producing food, collecting water, and sourcing fuel for heating and cooking,” observes the IUCN. “With climate change, these tasks are becoming more difficult.” As such, it’s no surprise that women are among the world’s most vocal and prominent climate activists — from youth leaders like Thunberg to the organizers of the first People’s Climate March.
Even further, when women have a seat at the negotiating table, climate and human rights considerations are more likely to come to the fore. “Women’s participation at the political level has resulted in greater responsiveness to citizen’s needs, often increasing cooperation across party and ethnic lines and delivering more sustainable peace,” say researchers from the UNFCCC. “At the local level, women’s inclusion at the leadership level has led to improved outcomes of climate-related projects and policies.”
Investments in women are investments in community
Working women invest 90 percent of their income back into their families and communities, compared to 35 percent for men, according to research from the Clinton Global Initiative and the United Nations. That means investments in women, girls and their wellbeing amount to more than a sum of their parts — they open the doors for the development of communities and families worldwide.
SBS has 97 partner organizations in 21 countries and is committed to lifting 1 million people out of poverty by 2027. If you are part of or know of an NGO focused on climate action, learn more about how to partner with us: https://www.streetbusinessschool.org/global-partners/
Shown in photo: SBS Alumnae Prossy and Loy