Some issues clearly relate to our climate crisis. Others are a bit more subtle, like the issues of family planning and the education of women and girls. Taken together, they are the #2 proposal in ‘Drawdown’ to reverse global warming.
Climate change is not gender neutral. Fifty-one percent of the world is female, but women and girls are disproportionately vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. At the same time, they are pivotal to addressing global warming AND to improving humanity’s overall resilience.
Family planning focused on healthcare and meeting women’s expressed needs, empowerment, equality, and well-being have significant benefits to the health of the planet. More than 200 million women in lower-income countries would like to choose whether and when to become pregnant, but they lack access to contraception. The result? 74 million unintended pregnancies a year. The need for contraception extends to high-income countries, like our own, where 45% of pregnancies are unintended.
This topic can be challenging due to the persistent belief that any attempt to address population control is an affront to the dignity of human life. But on a warming and crowded planet: to truly revere human life — a viable, vibrant home must be ensured for all. Honoring the dignity of women and children thru family planning is about freedom and opportunity for women — and the recognition of basic human rights for all.
Girls’ education also has a dramatic bearing on planetary health. Women with more years of education have fewer, healthier children and actively manage their reproductive health.
Brookings Institute reports that women with no schooling have 4-5 more children each than women with 12 years of education. Areas of the world where girls have the hardest time getting educated are also those areas hit hardest by population growth.
Educated women earn higher wages, experience greater upward mobility, and contribute to the economic growth of their communities and countries. Rates of maternal and infant mortality drop. The women’s agricultural plots are more productive, their families better nourished. Education lays a foundation for the vibrant lives of the girls and women, their families, and their communities. It is the most powerful lever for breaking the cycle of intergenerational poverty, while mitigating emissions by curbing population growth. According to a 2010 study – investment in educating girls is “highly cost competitive with almost all the existing options for carbon emissions abatement – perhaps just $10 per ton of C02.”
Education shores up resilience in terms of climate change impacts – there is a strong link, especially in lower-income countries, between women and the natural systems at the heart of family and community life. Women increasingly are stewards and managers of food, soil, trees, and water. They fuse inherited, traditional knowledge with new information. Educated women marshal multiple ways of knowing to observe, understand, reevaluate, and take action to sustain themselves and those who depend on them.
Synchronized investments in family planning and girl’s education is mutually reinforcing. Education is grounded in the belief that every life bubbles with innate potential. Nurturing that promise in each girl can shape the future for all on this planet.
-Phyllis A Yigdall, March 8, 2020 Climate as a Social Justice Issue Service.