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Girls’ Education and Climate Resilience

How can girls education improve a country’s resilience to climate change?

This executive summary lays out highlights from the report Girls’ Education and Climate Resilience, written by Max Bell School Master of Public Policy students as part of the 2022 Policy Lab.

Access the summary and presentation below, and read their full report here.


There is an urgent need to comprehensively address the global climate crisis and reduce the rate and impact of global warming. Education has long been recognized as a critical pathway to adapting to the impacts of climate change. Secondary school education has been understood as a crucial entry point to expanding understanding and awareness of climate change. The role of girls’ education is currently gaining traction as an important lever to foster climate action and develop sustainable outcomes. It is in this vein that this policy challenge attempts to identify how quality, gender-equal, and climate-focused education for girls can help communities and in turn countries build resilience against the effects of climate change.

Overview

This report presents findings and policy lessons on the climate, gender and education nexus. The analysis considers the implications of this nexus in rural regions in emerging economies that are markedly more vulnerable to the effects of climate change and provides guidance to chart a new path forward. This research was conducted within the context of 60 Million Girls’ mandate to advance girls’ education and support sustainable outcomes for girls in emerging economies around the world.

The three main objectives of our policy study included the following:

  1. Explore how girls are more vulnerable to climate change, in order to understand the key challenges faced by women and young girls in accessing quality secondary school education within specific priority regions.
  2. Recognize girls as agents of change and how empowering girls and gender-responsive education efforts contribute to climate resilience.
  3. Develop gender-responsive policy recommendations that can be used to inform the work of 60 Million Girls, its partners, and like-minded agencies to advance girls’ education and strengthen climate resilience strategies.

This policy project drew on qualitative data gathered through interviews and secondary research including a detailed review of government, nonprofit and civil publications and engagement with 60 Million Girls and its partners. The work also referenced literature provided by key stakeholders in the ecosystem, which included 24 key informant interviews with experts knowledgeable in the areas of gender, climate, and educational considerations in emerging economies and international contexts.

Key Findings

The value in exploring these issues

The gendered impacts of climate change are pronounced in the increased dropouts and challenges faced by girls in accessing and continuing their education. Worldwide, 129 million girls are currently estimated to be out of school. The Malala Fund has estimated that climate-related events are expected to prevent 12.5 million girls from completing their education in low and middle-income countries each year by 2025.

Adolescence exacerbates many of these challenges: current estimates suggest that almost half of the world’s adolescents do not attend secondary school. Adolescent girls face added challenges that emerge from the social, psychological and physical changes experienced during puberty. During this time, poverty and inequity often exhibit intergenerational effects as poor adolescent girls often give birth to impoverished children. This is particularly true among adolescent girls with low levels of education. Climate challenges combined with educational disadvantages and gender discrimination are recognized as potential factors that force adolescents into lives of exclusion and poverty, child marriage, and domestic violence. It is estimated that around one-third of girls in the developing world are married before age 18 and in a few countries, almost 30% of girls under 15 are also married. A lack of sufficient information, skills, and readiness to overcome or manage this stressful situation makes girls vulnerable.

Emerging evidence suggests that quality secondary school education can help girls to build and protect social capital and understand, cope with, and respond to environmental stressors and climate change. The returns of secondary school education are increased when students have access to both conventional higher education and community-based education. These are seen to be pivotal mechanisms to institute behavioural changes and empower learners to be conscious decision-makers. Secondary education can also facilitate the critical exploration of ideas to help adolescents create career plans and aspirations for the future that dramatically impact their communities and countries' climate resilience.

With respect to climate resilience, evidence suggests that the worsening effects of climate change necessitate a focus on climate resilience and the importance of capacity building. A community or country is considered to be resilient in the face of climate change if it can anticipate, prepare for, and adapt to changing conditions and withstand, respond to, and recover rapidly from disruptions arising from climate change. Resilience thus is seen to be a more sustainable way to help societies respond to climate change.

The importance of girls’ education in improving future employment, health, and environmental outcomes is also highlighted in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The suggested 2030 timeline stressed within this report aligns with the global calls to action represented by the SDGs and the promises made by nations at the recent COP26 conference. The IPCC suggests that the world must rapidly decarbonize, reducing emissions by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 to reach the greater net-zero emissions goals by 2050.

There is also growing recognition that the impacts of climate change are borne disproportionately by those populations and countries that have historically been the least responsible for present-day emissions. The consequences of climate shocks are thus unevenly distributed across regional and social boundaries.

The report findings indicate that jointly considering climate gender and education can lead to effective climate resilience. Evidence shows that investing in girls’ education, particularly secondary education, has been shown to be an effective socioeconomic determinant to reduce vulnerability to weather-related disasters. This is because 12 years of quality education is seen to reduce the underlying inequalities that both increase girls’ vulnerability to climate change and help perpetuate its root drivers.

The linkage between girls’ education and climate resilience is also reflected in recent data that shows that for each additional year of schooling girls receive, their countries’ resilience increases in the range of 1.6–3.2 points.

Climate-related benefits that arise from investing in girls’ education

Investing in girls’ education produces a myriad of immediate and sustained benefits that have a multiplier effect on the lives of girls, their families, communities, and societies at large. Study findings focused on four critical benefits:

  1. Family planning and reproductive health benefits are realized through girls’ continued education: Quality education equips girls with the knowledge and tools necessary to make informed decisions on family planning and determine how many children they will bear, if at all. This is seen to have cascading environmental benefits that mitigate the challenges that arise from increased population growth such as future resource strains and exposing more people to climate-related risks in low-resource regions.
  2. Climate leadership and environmentally conscious decision-making are cultivated through girls’ education: Schools represent the principal mechanism to prepare youth for success in broader social and economic settings. Formal education that is both gender-sensitive and climate-conscious connects those fundamental soft skills with efforts to improve climate literacy and awareness and this, in turn, can catalyze climate leadership. Empowering girls through high-quality climate-conscious education can help them challenge notions of passive victimhood and become powerful change agents for sustainability in their communities.
  3. Schools can prepare girls to shape climate-resilient economies: The urgent nature of the climate crisis necessitates the pursuit of a multitude of climate strategies; this is represented in existing economic shifts to greener technologies and the creation of green jobs. To this end, incorporating green skills into the learning environment and curriculum can prepare girls to participate and thrive in a more climate-resilient economy upon graduation. A gender-sensitive and pro-climate education can also help to resolve the current underrepresentation of girls in STEM and unlock opportunities in STEM-based jobs in the economy post-graduation.
  4. Girls' education as a life-saving measure: The lifesaving implications of an investment in girls' education are most pronounced for girls from low-resource and highly vulnerable regions. A study of 125 countries found that the death toll caused by floods, droughts, wildfires, extreme temperature events, and extreme weather events could be 60% lower by 2050 if 70% of women were able to achieve a lower-secondary-school education.

Barriers to realizing this nexus

Findings from stakeholder interviews and literature suggest that there is a range of barriers or obstacles that hinder the investment in and realization of girls’ education as a climate solution. The barriers are organized across seven broad categories.

  1. Gender, climate, and education experts working in silos: Presently, many leaders in each of these subject areas are working independently to address girls’ education and climate resilience. The disconnection across sectors and among key stakeholders and decision-makers leads to inefficiencies, disruptions to the flow of information, and imposes additional costs that impede the advancement of their shared objectives.
  2. Lack of understanding of education as a means to build climate resilience: Stakeholder interviews and research findings revealed that there is a lack of awareness of the opportunity to jointly consider the overlapping agendas and mutual benefits that arise from investing in girls’ education. At the community level, this lack of awareness has resulted in counterproductive results where families have pulled girls out of schools to address the challenges that arise from climate shocks.
  3. Existing gendered harmful societal norms and practices: Existing traditions, social norms and gender biases often prevent girls from accessing and completing secondary school. These barriers are heightened in the face of climate events with disruptions to health, safety and security provisions that in turn, increase the risk of violence, exploitation, and the overall vulnerability of girls.
  4. Gender disparity in accessing resources: Resource scarcity is exponentially increased in the aftermath of climate events. This scarcity results in the de-prioritization of resources critical to women and girls—especially resources related to menstrual health management (MHM). Gendered disparities in the access and provision of resources prevent the participation of girls in classrooms.
  5. Underfunded climate-resilient infrastructure in schools: Many low-middle-income countries have substandard infrastructure that is unable to withstand extreme weather events. Study findings reveal that the lack of climate-resilient infrastructure has detrimentally impacted girls' education.
  6. Unavailability of supplementary climate curriculum: Data shows that in many emerging economies climate-related programs and modules are not mainstreamed across national curriculum frameworks. In addition, there is also a lack of teacher training on climate change and its interaction with gender which has resulted in gender gaps in learning and skills development and pro-climate outcomes.
  7. Lack of political will on the inclusion of girls in climate strategies: Stakeholders continuously stressed that many government policies have not been translated into action. The government programs to address extreme weather events are often not funded adequately or disconnected from the needs of the locals. These action plans also often exclude gender-responsive priorities.

Recommendations for 60 Million Girls and its partners

60 Million Girls and the agencies they fund can play an instrumental role in addressing these barriers and promoting girls’ education as an effective climate solution. The organization’s current mandate to support the retention of girls in schools in tandem with their efforts to improve the structure, nature and content taught within those schools is the critical combination of actions needed to galvanize systemic change. The recommendations outlined below are segmented across two major potential implementers, namely 60 Million Girls and its partners.

Recommendations to be implemented by 60 Million Girls

  1. Integrate climate considerations into organizational practices and policies to improve the institutional capacity to help realize greater climate adaptation and resilience through girls’ education.
    1. Develop a climate-focused education and operations policy.
    2. Integrate climate-related metrics and language into funding applications and project review and proposal processes.
    3. Add climate-related considerations and language to the webpage and communications materials.
  2. Foster international collaboration through multi-stakeholder dialogues and a central repository to facilitate knowledge sharing between international organizations and funders on the issue of girls’ education and climate resilience.

Recommendations to be implemented by partners

  1. Engage with local NGOs and governments to address barriers to gender equity for climate resilience
  2. Develop “green” standards for schools adopted and/or built by 60 Million Girls Partners
    1. Develop climate-resilient infrastructure, including WASH facilities
    2. Train the teachers on local environmental and climatic conditions, associated risks and management strategies.
  3. Implement climate and gender-focused supplementary curriculums to be disseminated through Remote Area Community Hotspot for Education and Learning (RACHEL)
  4. Enable schools to serve as community resource hubs to empower community members to be climate resilient
    1. Host information sessions on climate resilience at schools for community education.
    2. Post information on climate bulletin boards that act as early warning systems in schools.
  5. Leverage existing women and girl-based groups and leadership structures to serve as climate champions
  6. Conduct an environmental scan of government policies and actions on education, climate, and gender and identify strengths and areas for improvement that the community groups can utilize to advocate for changes.

These proposed recommendations present a number of critical pathways that, if properly implemented, could enable 60 Million Girls and its partners to effectively build resilience in emerging economies through investments in girls’ education. The recommendations present various benefits as well as some potential risks. Though efforts have been made to outline mitigating measures, further work is needed to ensure the viability of these actions. Targeted interventions and sustained collaborations among key actors will ultimately help reduce the existing vulnerabilities and increase the resilience of communities to climate events. As the world moves towards net-zero emissions, investing in girls’ education is a powerful catalyst for transformative change and effective climate action.


Download the full version of this report here.


This Policy Lab was presented by our MPPs on July 12, 2022. Watch the video below:


About the authors:

Aiza AbidAiza Abid

MPP Class of 2022


Fanuel Sbhatu GebremeskelFanuel Sbhatu Gebremeskel

MPP Class of 2022


Sugandha GuptaSugandha Gupta

MPP Class of 2022


Pragya TikkuPragya Tikku

MPP Class of 2022


Sumaya UgasSumaya Ugas

MPP Class of 2022

See the rest of the 2022 Policy Lab reports

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