Gender and the Climate Crisis

Photo credit: Jaipal Singh/EPA

Increasingly, the consequences of climate change are being felt the world over. Recently the media has been preoccupied with fires in Australia, flooding in the UK, changing demands for agricultural practices across the globe in response to changing weather conditions. Most of the humanitarian disasters caused by climate change, such as the food crises in Madagascar, Haiti, or Ethiopia in 2018, went underreported by the global media, despite natural disasters in 2018 alone being responsible for the deaths of at least 5 thousand people and subjected almost 29 million people to humanitarian aid. It is even less frequently reported that women are affected differently by climate change largely because of their additional responsibilities within their families and communities. How and why? We will explore these questions and consider the intersection of climate change and gender throughout this article.

Why?

Women are disproportionately affected by climate change as they are worse positioned in social, economic and political hierarchies. Women everywhere are less likely to influence decisions that affect their lives and women are more likely than men to be poor. While both men and women suffer in poverty and crises, gender discrimination means that women have far fewer resources to cope. They are likely to be the last to eat, the ones least likely to access healthcare, and are routinely trapped in time-consuming, unpaid domestic tasks. They are further disadvantaged due to lack of legal and land rights, which leaves them exposed to exploitation.

People with low income are overall more affected by crisis and the majority of the world’s poor are women. In rural areas, this can be because they depend on natural resources for food, water, and income, which are becoming increasingly scarce. Women are often the person responsible in the family for providing the resources to cook with, to use for heating, and for collecting water. Natural, local resources are disappearing and women in communities across the globe are required to walk further and further to get what they need.

Finally, women are more exposed to the negative impacts of disasters, such as sickness, injury, or even death, due to their lower socio-economic status, behavioural restrictions, and lesser access to information. In the past decades, these disasters have become more frequent and severe due to climate change.

While climate policies are yet to fully address the different impacts of climate change on different genders, there has been a shift towards implementing gender-sensitive climate policies to acknowledge the different needs of those affected and pave the way for climate action by, and for, women. Unlocking the capability of women is an important opportunity to creating and sustaining effective climate solutions.

How?

Education

Families often need to take their daughters out of school so they can help to make money, manage the household, or care for siblings. This creates developmental gaps in women’s lives that have several consequences, for instance, a lack of knowledge on climate change and ways to deal with its effects.

Child Marriage

When families struggle to survive due to the climate crisis, for example, if crops were bad and couldn’t be harvested, or the village was flooded, families might end up marrying off their young daughters to alleviate the financial strain. About 12 million girls are thought to have been married off due to natural disasters and reports have shown that human trafficking rises in areas where the natural environment is under stress. Child marriages are also linked to early pregnancy, which in itself can be a threat to the mother and the baby, in addition to limiting a girl’s access to education.

Health

Climate change can bring unpredictable weather patterns, less food, decreasing access to safe water and unstable living conditions. These factors affect women’s health in various ways. Firstly, women and girls are more likely to starve due to differences in income, employment opportunities and even cultural traditions that allow them to eat last and smaller proportions of meals. Secondly, some diseases are more dangerous for girls due to menstruation, pregnancy or young motherhood as women in these stages are already more exposed to develop complications such as infections, high blood pressure, severe bleeding, or unsafe abortions, especially if they don’t receive adequate healthcare. Additionally, if the country is heavily affected by disasters, there will be a disruption to health services which often leads to an increase in sexual and health problems.

Gender-based Violence

As in many crisis and conflicts, research has shown that the climate crisis increases physical, verbal, and sexual abuse against women. When women and children flee their homes as a result natural disaster or poverty caused by drought or floods, they become more vulnerable to human trafficking, rape, and child marriage and it has been shown that natural disasters have increased sexual trafficking by 20-30%. Migration can also be incredibly expensive, and vulnerable women are forced into owing sums of up to £40,000 in exchange for safe passage. They are told if they won’t pay, terrible thing will happen to their families, therefore they are forced into prostitution across Europe. However, money is not the only way gangs recruit women, they also use false promises of legitimate employment, and traditional ceremonies to have psychological control over them. According to the UN 80% of all Nigerian women who arrived in Italy by boat in 2016 will be trafficked into prostitution.

Additionally, sexual abuse is often found in unsustainable and illegal businesses, for instance in illegal fishing in Southeast Asia, logging in Congo, or mining in Colombia and Peru. There is also an increasing amount of violence directed against climate change activists and defenders.

 Solutions

First of all, we must protect and ensure girls’ education. It is the basis of affecting change across the board and a necessary element of a holistic solution. Not only it is every child’s right to receive an education, but this must be utilised to prepare children for the challenges associated with climate change and provide them with the resources to face these challenges. Through education, girls need to be supported to do the best they can and more, to be ambitious and to become leaders. Secondly, to empower women as agents of change and innovation rather than considering them purely as victims of climate change. If we support women into positions of leadership, climate policy, and decision making then we are enabling an environment for gender-sensitive environmental action to flourish. Despite women’s key role in climate action and coming up with effective solutions, they are still woefully underrepresented at the leadership level, particularly women of colour. We have to start by acknowledging the fact that women make decisions on climate change every day, that they are often responsible for childcare, purchasing decisions as consumers or influencing carbon emissions as farmers. The potential of women to transform their lives is unlimited – if they are given the opportunity to shine.

At The Circle, we aim to address the inequalities that women and girls face across the globe by empowering them directly and influencing change, policy systems, and processes. To find out more about our work click here.

This article was written by Anna Renfrew and Csenge Gábeli. Anna is the Project and Communications Officer at The Circle and Csenge is one of our volunteers. Csenge is a university student, a volunteer, and a feminist. She is originally from Hungary, but has started my university in London, which she loves.


Six ways in which educating girls benefits their wider community

The Circle member and volunteer Shannon Hodge looks at how educating girls can help tackle everything from child marriage to world poverty

Today, more than 263 million children are out of school, with 202 million of those of secondary school age. 130 million of them are girls. And despite all the efforts and progress made in previous years, more girls are still denied an education than boys — with 15 million girls of primary-school age estimated to never set foot in a classroom.

Investing in the education of girls brings high returns in terms of breaking cycles of poverty and aiding economic growth — but it also improves children’s and women’s survival rates and health, delays child marriage and early pregnancies, empowers women both in the home and the workplace, and helps tackle climate change.

In proposed target 4.1 of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, the UN said: “By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes”, meaning that each of the 263 million children currently out of education will be entitled to twelve years of quality, fee-free primary, lower secondary and upper secondary education by 2030.

Achieving universal access to those twelve years of education is both a matter of human rights and a huge investment in the overall development and economic growth of the world. Here are just a few of the ways in which unlocking the potential of millions of girls can have a wider impact…

1. Preventing child marriage and early pregnancy

An estimated 15 million girls a year are married before they are eighteen. Many are forced to marry by their families in exchange for a dowry — which is seen as a way of alleviating poverty within the family. Once married, many girls wanting to continue their education are often denied this right, due to traditional roles they are expected to play in the home, such as childbearing and cleaning.

Education is one of the most powerful tools to enable girls to avoid child marriage and fulfil their potential. And the longer a girl stays in school, the less likely she is to be married before the age of eighteen and have children during her teenage years.

It also gives girls the chance to develop the skills, knowledge and confidence to make informed decisions including when, and whom, they will marry.

With twelve years of quality education, girls are up to six times less likely to marry as children — compared to those who have little or no education. Estimates show that if all girls had access to secondary education, child marriage would drop by 64%.

2. Preventing female genital mutilation

Over 140 million girls worldwide have undergone female genital mutilation (FGM) — a form of gender-based violence where parts or all of the external female genitalia are removed or injured for no medical reason.

Education is integral to any strategy to reduce FGM, as it can play a key role in changing individual and societal views.

In fact, data shows that girls and women with no education are significantly more likely to be in favour of the existence of FGM — for example, in Kenya, approximately 38% of women and girls with no education support the continuation of the practice, in comparison to approximately 6% of women and girls with secondary or higher education.

3. Building more stable communities

Education builds resilience, enabling countries to recover from conflict faster once peace is established. In fact, inclusive, quality education can even help prevent conflict in the first place through lessons on problem-solving, social skills and critical thinking.

And whilst primary education is vital to girls, it’s secondary education that can be transformative. In certain countries, doubling the percentage of students finishing secondary school would halve the risk of conflict.

4. Tackling climate change

Following on from the fact that education can create more stable communities, research also suggests that girls’ education reduces a country’s vulnerability to natural disasters. As a matter of fact, education is one of the most cost-effective strategies to mitigate carbon emissions and tackle climate change.

In 47 countries covered by the 2005-2008 World Values Survey, the higher a girl’s level of education, the more likely she was to express concern for the environment. Furthermore, in the later 2010-2012 World Values Survey, when forced to choose between protecting the environment versus boosting the economy, those respondents with secondary education favoured the environment more than those with less than secondary education.

5. Strengthens economies and advances the fight to end poverty

Research in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development countries found that level of education has a “substantial impact on employment prospects”.

On average, across these countries, 74% of those with the proposed twelve years of education up to upper secondary are employed, as opposed to 56% of those without an upper secondary education.

Generally, secondary school graduates enjoy higher earning potential than early school leavers, contributing to the growth of the national economy through full-time employment and tax.

And if all children in low-income countries completed upper secondary education by 2030, per capita income would increase by 75% by 2050 and advance the fight to eliminate poverty by ten years.

6. Better health, longer lives

Girls’ education has wide-ranging and transformative health benefits, which can be passed on through generations. Every additional year of school a girl completes cuts rates of infant mortality — the death of children under one year — by five to ten per cent. And if all girls received the proposed twelve years of fee-free, quality education, the frequency of early births would drop by 59% and child deaths would decrease by 49%.

Furthermore, women with post-primary education are also better able to protect both themselves and their families against other health risks. For example, they are five times more likely than illiterate women to be educated about the risk of HIV and AIDS and know how to practice safer sex and prevent infection. Educated mothers are also more likely to vaccinate their children.

These are just some of the positive impacts that educating girls can have on both girls and their communities, and here at The Circle we believe that girls are the untapped solution to many of the world’s problems. To help improve the world, we must educate girls.

That’s why we work with Educate Girls to address issues facing young girls in India.

An estimated three million girls are out of school in India and the situation is worse in rural areas of Rajasthan, where girls are three times more likely to be out of school than other children in India. The female literacy rate in Rajasthan is 52%, the lowest in the country, and six in ten girls in Rajasthan marry as children.

The Circle supports Educate Girls in increasing girls’ enrolment and retention rates and improving the quality of education in India with the use of Creating Learning and Teaching kits. You can read more about the project or  donate on our website.

“We can gain peace, grow economies, improve our public health and the air that we breathe. Or we can lose another generation of girls.” — Education activist Malala Yousafzai, speech to Canadian Parliament, 2017.

@shanhodge
Shannon Hodge is a Journalism graduate and a member of The Circle.