To change everything, we need everyone – and that means we need to harness the wisdom and leadership of girls and women to protect the planet and its people.
Last October, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change offered a stark choice – greater food security and more protection for our oceans, coral reefs, biodiversity, and people, or disastrous levels of warming with higher risks of droughts, floods, extreme heat, and resulting poverty.
We have another related choice to make – to keep girls and women on the sidelines of the climate movement, or to harness their wisdom and leadership to seize the opportunity to protect the planet and usher in new solutions for a healthier and more sustainable world for all.
It’s a choice. But the right answer is clear. That is why on July 17, 2019, a group of gender equality and climate justice leaders – including Chair of The Elders Mary Robinson and UN Foundation leaders – issued a clarion call for women’s inclusion in the response to climate change.
Girls and women are already addressing the climate crisis in innovative ways that heal, rather than deepen, systemic injustices. However, their voices and needs are too often under-represented, and their efforts inadequately measured and supported. That has to end. The climate movement cannot succeed without an urgent upsurge in women’s global leadership.
Climate change is already affecting our environment and our daily experiences, and it will continue to impact the lives and livelihoods of all girls, women, men, and boys, everywhere.
But it will not affect us all in the same way and to the same degree. UN reports have established that girls and women will be more affected by water scarcity, deforestation, and displacement, and these challenges will exacerbate the inequity that girls and women already endure in every country. Consider these dynamics:
- Empty Fields, Empty Bellies: Our changing climate is destabilizing food production, destroying staple crops and making food scarcer. Because women are responsible for 45-80% of all food production in developing countries, climate change means a loss of income and, often, a woman’s sole source of food for herself and her family.
- Loss of Biodiversity and Water – and Safety and Time, Too: Climate change is accelerating the loss of biodiversity and deforestation and reducing the availability of fresh water. In places where girls and women are responsible for collecting natural resources, such as wood for cooking and water for drinking, they must search further from home, increasing their risk of violence and robbing them of time to learn, engage in their communities, or rest.
- Degradation and Deadly Migration: Environmental degradation and severe natural disasters are already increasing the flow of internal and cross-border migration. Girls and women in developing countries have higher death rates when they migrate because of poverty, behavioral and mobility restrictions, poorer access to information, and greater vulnerability to violence.
- Discriminatory Decision-Making and Data: Poverty and social, economic, and political barriers and norms might prevent girls and women from acquiring the information, resources, and life skills necessary to escape, avoid hazards, contribute to adaptation and mitigation, and thrive. This includes everything from not being taught how to swim or climb trees to escape rising water, to lacking access to mobile technology, hardier seeds, and weather information, to being discouraged from taking a seat in a science or math class. Further, our global lack of sex disaggregated data in all sectors, including livelihoods, disaster preparedness, health, and well-being, means we are likely underestimating girls’ and women’s roles and contributions.
Climate change is a clear threat multiplier that, left unchecked, will undermine our striving for gender equality. And gender equality is necessary for peace and prosperity for all.
However, it would be a mistake to think of girls and women as passive and helpless in the face of our climate crisis. Instead, girls and women are necessary to confronting this crisis – in their communities and in their capitals.
In communities, we need the wisdom and leadership of girls and women to advance adaptation, mitigation, and solutions, from the adoption of smarter agricultural, urban development, and transport practices to the development of renewable energy. Girls and women are key to building community resilience, responding to climate-related disaster risks, and rebuilding in the wake of catastrophe.
In all levels of government, women’s leadership is required to raise our ambitions and secure political will. Research has shown that women leaders are more likely to prioritize conservation efforts and countries with higher numbers of women in political leadership were more likely to ratify environmental treaties and protect land. According to an analysis by the Brookings Institution, countries with higher rates of women in climate leadership and increased schooling for girls fare better in terms of their overall vulnerability to climate disasters.
We don’t have abundant time. We do have an abundantly clear opportunity. Now is the time to support a surge of girls and women – in number and power – to the ranks of those working to defend our planet.
Therefore, today, we actively and decisively pledge to use our positions of power and privilege to:
- Support women and girls around the world to step forward and claim their space and leadership within the climate movement, and to lift up their voices and stories. All women and girls have a place in this work.
- Unify women’s efforts to create equity in health, education, economy, politics, peace, security, and beyond with the climate justice movement. Human rights and climate are inseparable.
- Raise the climate crisis and solutions for consideration in all institutional settings possible, including boards, initiatives, conferences, and forums. The climate crisis is everyone’s issue.
Or, as the declaration released today puts it: One Earth. One chance. Let’s seize it.