Why Educating Girls Helps to Fight the Climate Crisis
How is education and the climate linked?
The climate crisis is not a future problem, but a lived reality for billions of people.
Already, the climate crisis is causing extreme temperatures, weather, droughts and floods across the globe, disrupting people’s lives – from livelihoods to food security to household income. These disruptions have consequences on pretty much every area of a person’s life, and one of the most important is education. An estimated 37.5 million learners already have their education disrupted by climate change every year.
These disruptions can be caused by various factors.
Damage to livelihoods, food security and household income can force families to make decisions which remove children or young people from educative environments. This could be to support household chores, finding alternative income, as well as arranging marriages. In some extreme cases, families have resorted to offering their children for child labour, selling their children or organs for money to survive issues caused by the climate. It is not surprising low income households are particularly vulnerable to this.
Moreover, damaged infrastructure, transport links or displacement can interrupt learners’ ability to physically access education facilities.
What does education have to do with the fight against climate change?
The fact that the climate impacts access to education is important, because education has been shown to support climate resilience, adaption and migration.
Directly, formal education develops cognitive and problem-solving skills, knowledge and risk perception. Educated people are therefore more likely to respond better to weather-related disasters, including addressing and coping with risks. Indirectly, education helps to reduce vulnerability through poverty reduction, access to information and social capital. Educated individuals are associated with implementation of disaster preparedness measures; evacuation at times of emergency; diversified and better access to useful information (including weather forecasts and warnings); and greater social capital, including social support and networks. At the community level, this results in populations that are more adaptive and resilient in the preparation for, immediate response to, and aftermath of weather-related disasters.
Not only do we need to be thinking about how to prevent climate change from worsening, we also need to think about how we can best arm our populations to survive the already-changing climate.
What does education have to do with girls and climate change?
As education reduces individual vulnerability to disasters, it is important to equip girls with the opportunity to protect themselves with access to learning. Striessnig, Lutz and Patt (2013) found that girls’ education also improved household and community resilience.
Girls usually have even less access to education than boys, and the climate crisis has been found to exacerbate this further. Climate change has been seen to drive harmful processes associated with preventing girls’ education such as malnutrition; child marriage; injury, illness and death; violence and exploitation; increased poverty; and forced displacement. Other than the fact that climate justice will never be achieved without first addressing the gender dimensions within climate change and environmental degradation (Plan International, 2011), research produced by Kwauk and Braga (2017) identified a positive association between the average number of years’ schooling a girl receives in her country and the country’s ND-GAIN index, a measure of a country’s resilience to climate disasters. For every additional year of schooling a girls receives, her country’s resilience to climate disasters were expected to improve by 3.2 points.
What about the climate and Afghanistan?
In Afghanistan, there have already been six major droughts since 2000 (2000, 2006, 2008, 2011, 2018 and 2021). The 2018 drought directly affected two in every three people through failed harvests and resulting food insecurity as well as empty groundwater reserves, with almost 400,000 Afghans forced to move to other parts of the country (Amoli and Jones, 2022). The drought that began in 2021 remains a concern, particularly as many farmers had yet to recover from the previous drought in 2018 (IRC, 2021). As of December 2021, it was labelled ‘one of the worst droughts and food shortage crises in decades’ (IFRC, 2021). Afghanistan is expected to continue to see levels of warming above the global average, somewhere between 1.4°C and 5.5°C projected under the lowest and highest emission pathways, respectively (World Bank Group and Asian Development Bank, 2021).
As one of the poorest nations in the world and most impacted by climate change, educating girls in Afghanistan is vital to help strengthen Afghanistan’s resilience and ability to cope now and in the future.
CAMFED on Girls’ education of climate action. Available from: https://camfed.org/why-girls-education/climate-action/
Holloway, K., Ullah, Z., Ahmadi, D. et al. (2022) ‘Climate change, conflict and internal displacement in Afghanistan’. Available from: www.odi.org/en/publications/ climate-change-conflict-and-internal-displacement-in-afghanistan-we-are-struggling-to-survive
Kwauk, Christina (2021), Why is girl’s education important for climate action. Available from: https://www.brookings.edu/blog/education-plus-development/2021/02/10/why-is-girls-education-important-for-climate-action/
Pankhurst, C. (2022), What do we know about the links between education and climate and environment change? Available from: https://www.ukfiet.org/2022/what-do-we-know-about-the-links-between-girls-education-and-climate-and-environment-change/
Sims, K. (2021). Education, Girls’ Education and Climate Change. K4D Emerging Issues Report 29. Institute of Development Studies. DOI: 10.19088/K4D.2021.044