• How When Women Rise Up, Global Warming Can Fall

    March 8, 2021 • LIFE

    Girls at Climate Change Protest March holding placards

    By Biome founder, Tracey Bailey, for International Womens Day 2021 #choosetochallenge

    I am fascinated by this topic of how the empowerment of women and girls, and gender equality, is critical to defending our planet from the threats of climate change and other environmental catastrophes.

    We know that women are playing an increasing role in the defence of the environment from those of us being activists in our daily consumer choices, to leading protests, to sitting at the table in some of the world’s greatest decision making bodies such as the United Nations.

    However, pervasive gender inequality is still dramatically limiting the resilience of our communities, and restricting our chances to combat climate change.

    Women and girls in developing nations and indigenous communities bear the greatest burden of the impacts from climate change, and are most likely to be injured or die in climate induced natural disasters–and, it is from them we have the most to learn.

    Those of us in the richest, most developed countries are overwhelmingly responsible for the catastrophe of climate change, and this is why we have the most to do in helping women and girls the world over to rise up.

    To help support future female leaders, for IWD today, Biome donated $1,000 to Stars Foundation, a holistic program that supports Indigenous girls and young women in Australia to attend and remain engaged at school, complete Year 12 and move into full-time work or further study.

    Here are some of the key reasons why gender equality has a vital role.

    Education and freedom of choice

    Alongside the most important strategies to combat climate change, such as marine regeneration, regenerative agriculture, and renewable energy, Damon Gameau (in his film ‘2040’) lists ‘the empowerment of women and girls’.

    A report by Project Drawdown (1), found that:

    With access to education, family planning and birth control, women have the ability to choose how many children to have and when they have them. The report shows that with this access, women have less children and have them later in life. In both rural and urban areas, slower population growth relieves stress on ecosystems, allowing resources to recover from overuse without compromising local food access.

    With these additional resources, women also earn more money, achieve career goals and face fewer health issues. Rural women see higher crop yields, providing better nutrition and financial stability for their families.

    As the report states, this is not about enforcing population control; “When family planning focuses on healthcare provision and meeting women’s expressed needs, empowerment, equality, and well-being are the result; the benefits to the planet are side effects.”

    In her TED talk (link below), Katharine Wilkinson explains: “Close the gaps on access to education and family planning and by mid century we may find one billion fewer people inhabiting earth than we would if we did nothing more”.  According to Project Drawdown, this can avoid 120 billion tonnes of emissions.  At that level of impact, gender equity is on par with wind turbines, solar panels and forests.

    Resilience of the women most affected

    Women and children are far more likely to die in a disaster than men.  It can be due to something as simple as the fact they never learned to swim or climb trees because they have been responsible for taking care of the children and the elderly.

    South African climate justice activist Francina Nkosi, says that women living in poverty are disproportionately impacted by climate change, which is made worse by pre-existing gender inequalities. (2)

    Most often responsible for securing water, food, and fuel for their families and communities, women are hit harder when things like increasing drought and unpredictable weather patterns threaten essential natural resources. An extended drought could mean women have to walk much longer distances to collect water to carry back for their families. The increased burden of unpaid labour means women and girls have very little time left to engage in other income-generating activities, or obtain the same level of education as men and boys in their communities. This in turn perpetuates a cycle of gender inequality.

    130 million girls are still denied their basic right to attend school.  Too many girls are missing this vital foundation for life that leads to better health for themselves and their children, for greater agency, and for more capacity to navigate a changing world. 

    Deep knowledge and leadership

    Action Aid Research and Policy Manager, Melissa Bungcaras, reflects (3):

    “As the glacial pace of change in global discussions continues to sideline the voices of grassroots women, we are seeing women creating change from the bottom up and demonstrating that the solutions to climate change and disaster risks must come from the people who are most affected.”

    Women at the grassroots already have the knowledge and understanding of what is needed to adapt to changing environmental conditions and to come up with practical solutions.

    But they are still a largely untapped resource. Restricted land rights, lack of access to financial resources, training and technology, and limited access to political decision-making spheres often prevent them from playing a full role in tackling climate change and other environmental challenges.

    Unleashing the knowledge and capability of women represents an important opportunity to craft effective climate change solutions for the benefit of all.  (3)

    Recovery from disaster

    There is a large body of research which shows that reducing gender inequality even before disaster strikes can save more lives and minimise risks in an emergency. Greater gender equality in a society correlates with an increase in women’s leadership in all walks of life, including in humanitarian response. (2)

    So, this IWD, we encourage you to help progress our world towards equality for women and men, because it may be the strongest defence we have to save our planet from ecological disaster.


    Excellent TED talk by Katharine Wilkinson: How empowering women and girls can help stop global warming

    “If we gain ground on gender equality, we also gain ground on global warming.”

    (1) https://www.earthday.org/womens-empowerment-is-key-to-reducing-climate-change/

    (2) https://actionaid.org.au/whats-missing-from-2040s-discussion-of-gender-equality/

    (3) https://www.iucn.org/resources/issues-briefs/gender-and-climate-change

    (4) Image:  Photograph: Jeenah Moon/Reuters   https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/aug/30/greta-thunberg-un-climate-protest-new-york