Invest in Girls to be Agents of Change and Build Resilience to Climate Injustice

Extreme weathers caused by climate change, such as droughts, heat waves, floods, and typhoons, occur frequently around the world, not only bringing various environmental disasters but also deepening the existing social inequality, making vulnerable girls deeply trapped in the double injustice of “climate” and “gender”. The theme of Earth Day on April 22 this year is “Invest in the Earth”. Plan International believes that investing in girls’ education and empowering them to become agents of change is the key to tackling climate change.

Underprivileged Girls bear the brunt of climate change

In developing countries, girls are already at a disadvantage due to poverty and gender inequality. When climate disasters strike, they are the first to face the threats of dropping out, displacement, child marriage, and sexual violence. It is estimated that 80 percent of people displaced by climate change are women, according to UN Environment Programme. If the current situation does not improve significantly, by 2050, climate change will be a contributing factor in preventing at least 12.5 million girls from completing their education each year, according to the Malala Fund.

The drought in Africa has caused acute food shortages for millions of people. Children and girls have to sacrifice their childhoods and are being forced todrop out of school tomake a living.

Years of droughts in Africa have resulted in the loss of agricultural crops; a large number of livestock have died due to a lack of water and food; and people are on the verge of famine. Natural disasters reduce family incomes. When life and death are at stake, girls are not only the last ones in the family to get food but also the first to sacrifice their educational rights. Najma, a 12-year-old girl who lives in Kenya, dreams of becoming a doctor, because of the drought, she lost hope of her future. She dropped out of school and has since become the pillar of the family, carrying out housework and earning her livelihood. While her dreams were disillusioned, she also had to face the threats of child marriage, female genital mutilation, and sexual violence, and she lived in fear every day. “In our community, girls face many challenges, especially during difficult times. There is nowhere for us to run, our parents are selling us in exchange for money.”

The drought in the community where Najma lives is severe. Girls and young women have to travel long distances to find food and clean water and are facing the risk of sexual harassment along the way.

In March of this year, tropical storm Freddy ripped through Malawi twice within a month. A large number of houses collapsed in the floods, killing more than 200 people.

Women’s representation at the climate change summit hits a record low

Girls are suffering every day as climate change intensifies. Although women make up half of the global population, their needs are often neglected in climate policy. According to a report released by Plan International and UNICEF in 2019, among the 160 signatory countries that have set emission reduction targets, only one enacted policy touched on “education for girls” and two on “females”. Not only at the policy level but also in the decision-making process, girls are deprived of roles in policy-making concerning their future. At the 2022 UN climate change summit in Egypt (COP27), only seven of the 110 national leaders attended the summit were women. At the signing of the Paris Agreement in 2016, women made up 35% of country negotiating teams, but it dropped to 34% in 2022. The Women’s Environment and Development Organisation described it as the lowest number of women participating at this time, the situation is concerning.

Despite overwhelming evidence that women bear a disproportionate burden of climate change, women’s roles and voices continue to be excluded, compounding their plight.

Equip girls to fight for their future

Women do not necessarily have to play the role of “victims” on the issue of climate change. They definitely have the ability to be change-makers in slowing down climate change. Greta Thunberg, Swedish environmental activist, is the best example. Since she held a climate strike in 2018, with her own power, she has inspired more than two million students in 150 countries around the world to take actions and aroused public attention on climate change. Plan International believes that every girl has the ability to save the planet and fight for a better future.

Plan International is carrying out different types of projects in developing countries to help children, especially girls, cope with the challenges of climate change, such as:

  • Provided school meals for children and girls in drought-stricken countries, such as Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia, South Sudan, and Mali, to keep them in school so they can avoid becoming the victims of child marriage
  • Published a report co-authored by young female climate advocates at the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Summit (COP27), calling on countries to take action to address the loss and damage caused by climate change and minimise the impact of climate change on girls and young people
  • Encouraged girls to study science and technology, engineering, mathematics, economics, politics, and other subjects so that they can develop their strengths, participate in promoting environmental protection policies, and contribute to a green economy.
  • Implemented the “Safe School” project in Bangladesh, Cambodia, the Philippines and Thailand. Through different courses and trainings, students and schools can improve their ability to respond to disasters, and equip with different disaster prevention and control knowledge, including first aid, crucial life skills and water safety.

Plan International established a Youth Advisory Panel in the Sierra Leonean community to encourage girls to study STEM subjects. Knowing that many students failed to keep up with their studies due to a lack of electricity, 22-year-old Hawa developed an innovative technology called “SolWind,” a wind and solar power technology that can be used in rural communities. It is not only saving the planet but also enabling more students to continue their studies at the same time.

In rural northern Ghana, climate change has led to insufficient rainfall, seriously affecting local agricultural production and causing children to suffer from malnutrition. 24-year-old Olivia gained green skills through Plan International’s project, adopted an environmental-friendly farming method, and successfully grew tomatoes, cucumbers, and broccoli, improving the quality of life of local residents.

The impact of climate change is imminent. According to the “2022 Asia-Pacific Girls Report: They Fight for the Future” published by Plan International, 70% of the surveyed girls have stood up to arouse more people’s attention to climate change through actions. But at the same time, one third of girls surveyed lack confidence in participating in climate decision-making. Our work must continue. We will continue to make ways for girls, educate and empower girls to speak out, equip them with green skills, and provide more opportunities for them to participate in and influence decision-making. Let their voices be heard and stand in solidarity with people from all walks of life to tackle climate change. We can also protect our environment by living a green lifestyle and protect the rights of our bright girls and build a healthy planet together.

You can help underprivileged girls cope with climate crisis, improve quality of lives, receive education and stop gender inequality by supporting Plan International’s Girls Fund via one-off or monthly donation. With your help, they can take control of their future.

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