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Climate change and female education are two of the most hotly debated global topics of our 21st century zeitgeist. Until recently there has been minimal convergence between these two issues. We've been inclined to wrap them up and place them in little bento box compartments, keeping them independent and uncontaminated. However, an intersection has begun to form, with female education and family planning cited as being imperative investments for climate change mitigation.
Education and family planning services are widely recognised as universal human rights and important developmental strategies. They have been a part of our global dialogue since the inaugural Millennium Summit in September 2000 and appeared among the United Nations revised 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG's) adopted in late 2015 which called for "universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care services, including for family planning" and the elimination of "gender disparities in education."
The effects of climate change are well publicised – ice caps will melt, the weather will become more variable with intense rainfall afflicting some and drought afflicting others, coastal storms will intensify and storm surges will be magnified. What is not often talked about is how this will all hit developing countries much harder than their developed neighbours, and on top of this, that women will be disproportionately affected much more than men.
Where does female education and family planning fit in?
To begin, we need to talk about population growth. The equation seems fairly straightforward: the more the world's population grows, the greater the strain on natural resources and the greater the affect on climate change. According to the Woodrow Wilson Center, the world's population has doubled since 1965 and is currently growing by nearly 80 million people per year. The World Population Prospects (2015), notes that "more than half of global population growth between now and 2050 is expected to occur in Africa. Africa has the highest rate of population growth among major areas, growing at a pace of 2.55 per cent annually in 2010-2015." As well as this, an analysis of future greenhouse emissions has predicted that as developing countries (who can ill afford the cost of low-carbon technologies) progress towards industrialization, the developing-country share of cumulative atmospheric carbon loading is likely to reach 50% by 2030. In short, developing countries will be the dominant perpetrator of global warming, as well as the primary victims of climate change.
Female education and family planning have been identified as major determinants of both population growth and resilience in the face of climate change. However, the two need to be considered hand in hand, as results indicate that female education has a positive impact on the productivity of family planning programs, and that family planning is likely to benefit education programs. They are a dynamic duo - think of them as being a little like Doctor Dolittle's pushmi-pullyu.
Female education and family planning will have a two-fold effect. It will:
- Contribute to a declining global fertility rate.
- Equip females with the necessary resilience skills to deal with the effects of climate change already in motion.
In a nutshell, the higher the level of a woman's educational attainment, the fewer children she is likely to bear. The table below supports the role of female education in fertility decline.
As well as this, female education is a cornerstone of resilience in women living in the throes of climate change. The Brookings Center for Universal Education has outlined some of the ways in which education can reduce vulnerability to climate change crises. Female education:
- Improves socio-economic status, which allows individuals to expand alternative livelihood options, increase earnings and command the resources necessary to cope with droughts.
- Helps people acquire skills – such as planning, problem solving, and business management – that improve their capacity to adapt during droughts.
- Associated with greater social capital, support and networks, which girls can draw upon during crisis.
- Improves access to communication technologies such as weather forecasts and early warning messages.
While it should be noted that female education and family planning services are not the only factors influencing TFR (Total Fertility Rate) and climate crisis resilience, the case for their significance is strong. Bettering the lives of women globally should remain and end in and of itself. However, the intersection it shares with climate change renders it a potential candidate in the mission to reduce carbon emissions and increase resilience in the face of climate related crisis.
This International Women's Day, we encourage you to be 'Be Bold For Change'.
Outlined below are four small ways in which you can empower women as agents of climate mitigation:
- Buy yourself a menstrual cup: Aside from the powerful environmental reasons to invest in a menstrual cup, this purchase could assist a girl in regular school attendance. Menstruation is an overlooked obstacle to education with recent studies showing that girls miss up to 20% of their schooling due to menstruation and poor sanitary product access. However, Ruby Cup has developed a 'Buy One, Give One' system of purchase, wherein you automatically donate a cup to girl in need in East Africa. Their social mission is already bearing fruits, with the percentage of girls missing 2-4 days of school dropping from 56% to 5%. Be bold for change and buy yourself, and a girl in need, a menstrual cup this International Women's Day!
- Donate to Solar Sisters: Solar Sister is a non-for-profit aiming to eradicate energy poverty by equipping women in rural Africa with the entrepreneurial skills to bring clean-energy solutions to underserved communities. By empowering women as leaders, consumers, and through local workforce development, Solar Sister is providing a strong case for what women can do to expand clean energy access and fight on the front line of climate change.
- Donate to Pathfinder International: Pathfinder is an organisation that champions sexual and reproductive rights in over 19 countries, enabling women to make informed decisions about whether and when to have children. In doing so, they strive to increase educational and economic opportunities for women.
- Sign up for, or donate to 1 Million Women: By making a tax deductable donation to 1 Million Women you are helping us mobilise the power of women to take action on climate change and transform society. Large or small, your donation will make a huge difference.
We at 1 Million Women hope you have a wonderful International Women's Day, finding a moment to #BeBoldForChange and take an action that creates a better, more gender-inclusive, environmentally sustainable world.
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