How Women Play a Key Role in Addressing Climate Change
Diana Chaplin | February 25, 2022 | 4 min read
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.
As part of our work to empower women and restore the climate, we're proud to continue our partnership with Planet Women, a nonprofit that partners with women to create a healthy planet for the benefit of all life. Last year, we established The Women's Fund for Forests, which aims to plant 5 million trees over 5 years. Beyond simply planting trees, these reforestation initiatives are designed to benefit women and their families, mitigate climate change and improve biodiversity. Learn more about The Women's Fund for Forests here.
For 2022, we celebrated International Women's Day with a co-hosted webinar: Deep Roots, Strong Branches: Women Leaders on the Frontlines of Forest Protection.Developed for women by women, this webinar provided an opportunity to hear from female foresters and environmental experts about how gender equity strengthens outcomes in the field, as well as their barrier-breaking career journeys.
Watch the Deep Roots, Strong Branches Webinar here:
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 change 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 our human population deserves more attention as one of many solutions to the climate crisis — as well as other Sustainable Development Goals like reducing poverty and hunger. 225 million women in lower-income countries say that they want the ability to choose when and if they become pregnant but lack access to contraception — resulting in about 74 million unintended pregnancies each year. In high-income countries like 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 and improve humanitarian challenges. According to analysis in Drawdown, where family planning is listed as #7 in the top 10 solutions to global warming, the resulting carbon 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 either 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 benefiting 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 for 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 also 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 could reduce carbon emissions by an estimated 123 Gigatons by 2050.
Women and climate: potential for positive change
While it's unfortunate that gender inequality prevents progress on climate resilience and sustainability, we can take the optimistic view that now that 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 Women's Day, 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. Plant a tree to support women and the environment today!