When you think about two of the top priorities of the 21st century—women’s rights and climate change—they may initially seem like two completely disparate issues. But in reality, they are inextricably linked: The degree to which women have access to basic human rights has a significant impact on climate change.
Research has demonstrated this link time and again. For example, after examining 76 environmental solutions, Project Drawdown recently reported that empowering women and girls in developing countries is the second-most effective solution for curbing global warming to 2 degrees Celsius. The United Nations (UN) also recognizes the importance of women’s rights in the climate crisis, and since 2105 has included “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls” in its list of Sustainable Development Goals.
In this blog article, we’ll explore why the empowerment of women and girls is paramount in the race to solve climate change, as well as what can be done to advance women’s rights with sustainability in mind.
The Impacts of Climate Change on Women
First, a note about the inequality of climate change. As we’re already witnessing, climate change doesn’t impact everyone in the same way. For example, poorer nations and individuals are more likely to bear the brunt of climate disasters.
In a similar vein, women tend to be more vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Why?
In developing nations, women are more likely to be directly impacted by climate change as a result of their domestic work, particularly their role in providing sustenance and water for their families. In severe weather events like floods, women are often at greater risk because they have to care for the young and elderly, or they don’t know how to swim. A tragic example is the 2004 Southeast Asia tsunami, which killed more than 227,000 people, 75 percent of whom were women.
As a result of these obstacles, we see that gender inequality may actively limit how resilient and adaptive women, families, and communities are in the face of climate change. However, encouraging signs exist: Evidence shows that empowering women and advancing gender equality can deliver results in areas such as food and economic security and health, while also promoting more environmentally friendly decision making.
Women and Farming
Farming is one of the most significant areas in which women’s empowerment and climate change overlap. In developing regions, men and women tend to take very different approaches to farming.
Men, who typically control a family’s finances, are driven to mass-produce a small number of crops to make as much money as possible. This approach, known as monoculture farming, can damage the local environment by draining nutrients from the soil. Women, on the other hand, are more likely to be focused on growing and cooking food for the family. This means they cultivate a variety of crops to delivers better taste and nutrition for their dependents. The approach helps protect biodiversity and improves soil resistance against droughts, floods, and disease.
In addition to taking a very different approach to farming, women also possess a wealth of knowledge about sustainable agriculture. According to the UN, indigenous women have the benefit of traditional skills and generations’ worth of knowledge about natural resource management, which is precisely what farmers need to apply to withstand climate impacts, cut greenhouse gas emissions, and achieve innovations around waste and energy. Their expertise has also been recognized as vital to helping address problems such as desertification and drought.
We need to focus efforts to empower women to become successful farmers in developing countries. Female farmers currently make up about 43% of the agricultural labor force in these areas, according to the UN, but they often don’t have access to the same resources as male farmers. When women are given access to the same resources as men, they can increase their yields by up to 30 percent, improving total output in developing nations by 2.5 to 4 percent and helping to reduce world hunger by 12 to 17 percent.
The ability to sustainably feed more people is going to be paramount to our success as a species as the climate continues to change and as the global population increases. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that to feed everyone on Earth, we need to increase food production by 60% by 2050. Now is the time to ensure women in developing nations are empowered in agriculture.
Access to education also helps to increase the resilience of women and girls to climate disasters. Project Drawdown’s report estimates that girls’ education, as well as family planning, could reduce carbon by 85 gigatons by 2050.
Access to education presents several key benefits for women and girls in regard to sustainability:
- Education can help rural women become successful farmers, which enables the benefits mentioned above.
- Education improves women’s resilience to climate disasters, for example, by helping them understand how to help mitigate the effects of climate change in their community and what to do when a disaster strikes.
- Education around family planning empowers women to make important decisions for their future, such as how many children to have and when—which directly impacts population growth and humans’ ability to sustain life on this planet.
Women and girls in developing countries already face a variety of obstacles to getting an education, but climate change threatens to limit their access to education even further by disrupting their day-to-day lives. For example, in rural areas, many women and girls are tasked with collecting water for their family. But as climate change causes more droughts and intensifies water scarcity, women and girls wind up spending more time and energy ensuring their family gets enough water, instead of attending school or earning money.
Freedom of Choice
When women are empowered through education and knowledge of family planning resources and birth control, they get to take control of their reproductive destinies. With this access, women tend to have fewer children, which helps to slow population growth.
Slower population growth lessens stress on our overtaxed environment, giving ecosystems time to recover from overuse.
This isn’t about enforcing population control. On the contrary, it’s about empowering women with freedom of choice. When women are empowered, they get to determine the future of their own lives, while benefiting the future of our planet. Every step toward greater gender equality not only benefits women, but benefits the entire human race.
Help Us Empower Women and Girls
Long-standing gender inequality is one of the greatest barriers to humans successfully tackling climate change. As you’ve seen, women’s empowerment is a vital component of the climate conversation. At Population Media Center (PMC), we work to empower women and girls so they can determine their own future and reach their full potential.
Women and girls around the world are robbed of social power and self-determination because of deeply rooted social norms. To empower women around the world, PMC develops entertaining radio and TV dramas with storylines that help to shift behaviors and change lives. Our approach has real impacts on women and girls. For example, after one of our shows broadcast in Mali, the belief that women could work outside of the home increased by 53 percent.
Interested in helping PMC achieve its mission of empowering women and girls for a more sustainable world? Learn how you can take action today.