This article is sponsored by HP and written on HP's behalf.
Addressing a global challenge as complex as climate change demands a full suite of solutions and actors, but one powerful intervention is widely overlooked: educating girls. Education gives girls the skills and knowledge to respond to climate-related disasters and to the changing resource landscapes around them. The contributions of educated girls to their communities increases a region’s overall resilience to climate shocks.
Educated girls grow up to be women who participate fully in society and take on leadership roles. A growing body of evidence demonstrates that female political leaders are especially effective in creating environmental protection measures and more likely to ratify climate protective laws and treaties. And projections from a raft of international organizations including the United Nations and the World Bank indicate that education coupled with family planning and reproductive rights has a dramatic impact on population growth and carbon emissions.
But with more than 130 million girls not in school pre-pandemic, and 20 million more at risk of never returning to school due to COVID-19 disruptions, the world is denying girls their right while simultaneously missing a transformative solution to a grave threat. And climate change threatens girls first and worst. Without an education, girls are disproportionately affected by the effects of climate change. Today 80 percent of people displaced by climate disasters are women and girls.
A young woman in Ethiopia fetches water. UNICEF estimates that worldwide, women and girls spend an estimated 200 million hours carrying water each day.
"Extreme weather events destroy livelihoods and worsen poverty, and girls typically bear the brunt with spikes in child marriage, trafficking and domestic violence," said Christina Lowery, CEO of Girl Rising, a non-profit which advances girls’ right to a quality education. Girl Rising has recently launched a new program, Future Rising, focused on climate change.
"We want to see a renewed commitment to girls’ education particularly in the wake of COVID-19, when we’ve seen disproportionate impacts on girls, but also how educated girls are leading the way during the crisis," she said. "We need to invest in girls, their education, their social-emotional needs, and their access to opportunities and, importantly, to digital solutions."
"Digital generation. Our generation" was the theme of this year’s International Day of the Girl on Oct. 11, which highlighted the growing gender digital gap. Since 2013, the number of women and girls unable to access digital technology increased from 11 percent to 17 percent in 2019. In the least developed nations, the gender gap is around 43 percent. During the pandemic, an estimated 463 million children were unable to access digital learning; most were girls of color. These gender disparities in digital connectivity are also related to girls’ vulnerabilities to climate shocks.
"Not being able to use a mobile phone or the Internet to access weather forecasts, or to be able to properly interpret information due to lack of a basic education makes girls far more likely to be injured or killed in a climate emergency," said Lowery.
Women living below the poverty line are 14 times more likely to die in a climate disaster, according to a report by humanitarian non-profit CARE International. And recently, a study published in the journal Science found that if global temperatures keep rising, this generation of children will experience three times as many climate disasters as their grandparents.
"Girls are the solution," Lowery said. "When girls are educated the benefits are widespread, transformative and long-lasting. Educated girls can develop better solutions to deal with things like food and water scarcity. Educating girls in STEM subjects and giving them skills in negotiation, communication and problem-solving will better equip them to lead the world’s transition to a more sustainable low-carbon economy."
Girl Rising launched its Future Rising initiative in April to drive investment in girls’ education, to harness the power of educated girls to tackle climate change and to change gender norms through storytelling. Ayomide Solanke, 27, a Future Rising Fellow from Nigeria, is creating a series of graphic novels to vividly demonstrate the link between extreme drought and child marriage.
Meet Future Rising Fellow, Ayomide Solanke from Nigeria. She will be producing a graphic novel that highlights the connections between drought and child marriage, and other violent acts against women and girls. Courtesy of Ayomide Solanke.
"It’s not possible to address climate change without addressing gender equity and a whole range of other injustices and inequalities," Lowery said.
Girl Rising partners with other foundations and major corporations to advance its agenda. For instance, with support from tech giant HP, the nonprofit is partnering with 1 Million Teachers to work with community-based educators and religious leaders to increase the number and capacity of home-grown educators to deliver learning anywhere in the world. Also with HP, Girls Rising has been able to support an education partner in India, Slam Out Loud, that has developed arts-based social emotional education delivered via low bandwidth tech platforms. All these efforts are part of HP PATH (Partnerships and Technology for Humanity), the company’s goal to accelerate digital equity for 150 million people by 2030, with a particular focus on girls and women, among other historically excluded communities.
"We’re on the brink of change, possibly the biggest since the industrial revolution," said Anna Hall, director of Future Rising. "Girls can’t be left behind. Educating girls in STEM subjects will prepare them for jobs in a new green economy."
In addition to supporting young women leaders through their Future Rising Fellowship and developing new educational curriculum for their programs in 12 countries, Girl Rising is raising awareness about the importance of educating girls to policy leaders at forums such as the United Nations General Assembly Goals House and COP26. They are challenging businesses to add girls' education to their climate strategies.
Meet Girl Rising's Future Rising Fellows, a virtual fellowship for young activists working on environmental justice storytelling with a focus on women and girls.
Here are some ways that businesses can advocate for and address fundamental equity as part of their climate change solutions:
Educate your employees about gender inequity and climate change. Use your platforms and channels to build awareness and understanding of these issues among your employees, supply chain and customers.
Invest in job training programs that provide girls with quality education and job training.
Rethink internship programs and intentionally seek and support young women and men from historically marginalized communities, particularly those experiencing the most pronounced impacts of climate change.
Mentor women in your business and girls in your community. It’s imperative to provide leadership, communication and collaboration skills and opportunities for career advancement.
Be a role model. Find ways to share the role models among your employees and leaders with young people. Girls and boys both need to see examples of women in leadership, particularly in science and technology. People need to see it to be it.
Decarbonize your core business and supply chain. A truly effective strategy for dealing with climate change needs to include systems change.
"Any changes to our system need to include the voices, ideas and talents of educated girls and women," Lowery said. "Educating women and girls is as close as you can get to a silver bullet to address a whole host of challenges the world faces."