An estimated 200 million adolescent girls live on the frontlines of the climate crisis. The COP26 summit has made clear that the link between girls’ education and climate change deserves urgent attention. The impacts of climate change worsen gender inequality and disproportionately impact women and girls, disrupting their lives and their education. However, when girls and women are better educated and included in decision making at all levels, their families and communities are more resilient and adaptable to economic and environmental shocks. They are better able to plan for, cope with and rebound from climate crises. Studies show that for every additional year of schooling girls receive, their country’s resilience to climate-driven disasters improves substantially (Brookings, 2017).
The Girls’ Education Challenge (GEC) supports up to 1.5 million of the most marginalised girls in 17 countries across Africa and Asia, many of which suffer the impacts of climate change in multiple ways. The GEC works in partnership with 41 implementing organisations that focus on the most marginalised girls and young women, who are most vulnerable to climate change. At the heart of all projects lies work designed to increase access to quality education that builds girls' engagement, self-esteem, confidence and leadership skills. This builds greater agency and the ability to be part of and drive decision making, individually, within families, communities and, as we shall see, on a government level too.
The GEC projects have witnessed first-hand the impacts of climate change - from flooding and unseasonal rain in Nepal and Somalia to food insecurity in Malawi and extreme weather in Zimbabwe and Zambia. They have adapted their programming and work with education clusters and humanitarian systems to respond to the needs of the most marginalised girls. Projects are supported to implement a risk-based approach, know the barriers girls face, and continually analyse and reflect on implementation. Key to this is listening to girls and working in partnership with communities and governments.
Taking climate action in Nepal
The ENGAGE project, implemented by VSO in Nepal, is a powerful example of how these girls’ voices can be heard and acted upon. Nepal is the 10th most affected country by long-term climate risks (Climate Risk Index 2021). Nepal is vulnerable to natural disasters and climate crises like droughts, landslides, floods and earthquakes every year. These natural disasters have left thousands of families displaced and led to the loss of lives and livelihoods. During such a crisis, marginalised groups are hit the hardest and education is disrupted, particularly for the most marginalised girls.
Through the ENGAGE project, girls are being supported to make sure their lived experiences of climate change influence local and national policy and planning. Girls are consulted on how climate risks are disrupting their education or well-being and what actions can be taken to mitigate this.
ENGAGE has been mobilising the Girls and Inclusive Education Network which works across the Nepalese governance system to support climate resilience building. ENGAGE is engaging 2,340 girls within 82 schools in climate risk assessments and action planning through the network. Girls and youth climate mentors support their peers to engage in climate resilience and action planning. These action plans are taken to municipal education and disaster risk reduction authorities for inclusion into local and national level policy. The girls and youth climate mentors ensure that the risks identified by girls are responded to, and the climate actions influence local and national level policy. Girls develop their resilience and leadership skills by engaging in this climate resilience-building process within their schools and local government levels.
Through the Marginalised No More project, Street Child of Nepal also raises awareness of climate crisis by working with local partners and community stakeholders. Discussions are held with girls on disaster risk reduction, causes of climate change and the role youth can play in advocating for climate change mitigation and adaptation. The aim of these sessions is to understand the effects of climate change on health and livelihoods, especially those that impact the Musahar community – one of the most vulnerable and marginalised groups in Nepal. Training is also being given to 1,250 girls along with community members and local government representatives to engage them in climate change-related actions. The training integrates the Local Adaptation Plans of Action framework introduced by the government of Nepal to initiate climate adaptation at the community level. This framework helps strengthen local level actions and support most vulnerable communities to adapt better to the impacts of climate change. Once the training is complete, the project participants are mobilised to sensitise the community on climate change mitigation and adaptation measures.
To hear directly from those involved in this work, please watch our recent film.
The work of VSO and Street Child in Nepal demonstrates that when girls’ voices are heard and used to generate evidence, they can instigate transformational changes in mitigating the impact of climate change. More girls and young women need to participate in leadership and decision-making as increasing the diversity of experiences and perspectives at the policy table positively impacts identifying climate change issues and subsequent development of policy solutions. Girls are best placed to identify the solutions that are needed. As such, an essential part of resilience building is ensuring interventions are driven by girls, and the overall process supports children, parents, teachers and the education system more broadly to reduce vulnerabilities and become more resilient to shocks and stresses. The voices of the most marginalised need to be actively consulted and present in evidence generation to achieve this.
Building resilience in education
Education systems can also act as a vital support system for girls and vulnerable children in the face of shocks and stresses – with the right resilience strategies, schools can strengthen awareness of climate change and climate solutions, contribute to the resilience capabilities of children and find innovative approaches to adapt to disruptions. Keeping children in school through climate-related disruptions starts with building resilient education systems. This includes risk-sensitive planning, building climate-resilient infrastructure, and advancing curricula and teacher training on climate and disaster risk reduction.
Effectively responding to the climate crisis ultimately involves all of us working together to leverage the most significant change we can. Making climate-resilient education a reality requires ensuring collaboration across sectors like health and child protection and working with myriad partners, especially those that can invest in systems and affect change in multiple locations, like the Global Partnership for Education (GPE). Working together on a systems level, on programmes like Climate Change Education means that the international response to climate change can support partner countries to develop resilient and gender-sensitive education that keep the most vulnerable children learning and provide financing to strengthen equitable, inclusive, and resilient education systems that can be adapted to support needs if crises arise.