How Women Play a Key Role in Addressing Climate Change
Whether you call it the climate crisis, global warming, or simply what it is: the issue of humanity consuming more resources than the planet can replenish while creating unfathomable pollution, the reality is that inequality is deeply rooted in the challenges we’re facing. Yet if we take a look at who has the potential to positively influence the systems that guide us – socially, environmentally, and economically – we’ll find women leading the charge.
When women are provided with access to resources and education, and empowered to act as community leaders, the resulting benefits aren’t just more productive farms and healthier families, but also meaningful carbon emission reductions.
Here are 3 ways empowering women can benefit the climate:
1. Land ownership and access to resources can reduce hunger and deforestation
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), if all women smallholders receive equal access to productive resources, their farm yields will rise by 20-30%, total agricultural output in low-income countries would increase by 2.5-4%, and the number of undernourished people in the world would drop by 12-17%. Some studies even show that if women have access to the same resources as men – all else being equal – their output would actually exceed that of men’s by 7-23%.
This matters because agriculture accounts for about 80% of the causes of deforestation, and by extension many related impacts such as loss of biodiversity, desertification, and increased CO2 in the atmosphere. But when existing agricultural lands and forest management are improved there is less pressure to deforest further ground.
Women’s farming practices are more often regenerative and holistic as opposed to being chemically-intensive, ultimately resulting in soil and trees that store much more carbon, as well as cleaner water resources. Furthermore, the communities around the world that have gender quotas in decision-making for local forest management have higher success rates with conservation programs and distribute wealth more equally in the community, reducing poverty-driven environmentally destructive practices.
Currently, many countries exclude women from being able to own land or make community decisions in regards to land management, but providing women with land rights and farming resources could greatly support local and global climate goals.
2. Family planning can reduce overpopulation
Overpopulation is the taboo elephant in the room when it comes to humanity’s unsustainable growth. On a planet with dwindling resources, it’s clear that managing population deserves more attention as one of many solutions to the climate crisis, as well as other Sustainable Development Goals such as reducing poverty and hunger. 225 million women in lower-income countries say that they want the ability to choose whether and when to become pregnant but lack access to contraception – resulting in about 74 million unintended pregnancies each year. In high-income countries such as the US, 45% of pregnancies are unintended. That’s a lot of additional people having a carbon footprint on the planet.
Family planning isn’t just about contraception though. The most successful family planning programs integrate religious leaders, public education campaigns, and basic care for women and children where they live. Combined with free access to contraception, family planning could reduce pressure on economic systems, improve humanitarian challenges, and according to analysis in Drawdown where family planning is listed as #7 in the top 10 solutions to global warming, the resulting emissions reductions could be up to 59.6 Gigatons of Co2 by 2050.
3. Educating girls improves climate resilience
Perhaps among the most unexpected solutions, a girls’ education can greatly impact her role in exacerbating or mitigating global warming. Women with more years of education have fewer, healthier children. And since women play an important role as stewards and managers of food, soil, trees, and water, their education creates empowerment within community structures as it relates to land management, farming techniques, and administrative tasks, further benefitting the environment, climate, and biodiversity around her.
As climate change materializes, educated women are also more equipped to address plant disease, diminished soil quality, changing seed-sowing times, and other consequences to sustain themselves and their families, elevating climate resilience in the whole community.
Currently, 62 million girls are denied the right to attend school, and climate-related crises further reduce that capacity. In times of hardship, girls are more likely to be married early since a girl’s dowry can help a family cope with financial stress, and girls are the first to be removed from school to help with household needs. But mobilizing communities to support and sustain education for girls can greatly benefit local social and environmental conditions. Combined with family planning, this can reduce carbon emissions by an estimated 123 Gigatons by 2050.
Women and climate: inseparable potential for positive change
While it is unfortunate that gender inequality prevents progress on climate resilience and sustainability, we can take the optimistic view that now that an opportunity has been identified we have a clear path to action. Equipping women with access to the same resources as men, ensuring education, and encouraging family planning are all doable strategies that would improve the lives of women, their children, the natural world around them, and the planet as a whole. For International Day of Rural Women, and every day, we support the role of female environmental leaders!
As reforestation supports regeneration of currently degraded lands, women’s empowerment can help sustain this new life and prevent further environmental degradation.
We plant trees on 4 continents around the world. Want to choose where yours are planted?
by Diana Chaplin
Canopy Director & Eco-Storyteller