Climate change is said to be a “problem multiplier.” For instance, there is evidence that rising temperatures can make vulnerable communities even more prone to violent conflict than they already are. In a similar fashion, at-risk girls in the developing world are disproportionately affected by climate change. In particular, families who struggle to send their daughters to school might be more likely to pull them out of school with the income losses and other instabilities that come with climate change.
Climate change and girls in school
For too many low-income families, sending their children to school comes at a great cost. And unfortunately, they will oftentimes mitigate that cost by pulling their daughters out of school. According to UNESCO, approximately 130 million girls between the age of 6 and 17 are out of school, and 15 million girls of primary-school age- half of them in sub-Saharan Africa- will never enter a classroom. The reasons typically attributed to such statistics are poverty, cultural norms and practices, poor infrastructure, violence, and fragility- all of which are exacerbated by climate change.
Climate change threatens the livelihoods of many rural families. For those who are dependent on agriculture to make a living- such as the 40% of Kenyans whom the sector employs- increased droughts and other environmental issues lower their crop yields and ability to herd animals. With their incomes decreased, families may have less money to pay their daughters’ school fees, or girls may be simply too hungry to attend class.
Additionally, climate change lowers the availability of natural resources, such as water and cooking fuels. Yet, it is primarily women and girls who are tasked with fetching these supplies. In fact, globally, girls and women spend a whopping 200 million hours per day fetching water. With less access to water and fuel, they will have to spend even more time every day just acquiring these basic necessities- thus taking time away from school for girls.
Climate displacement interrupting girls’ education
There is also the fact that climate change has been leading to displacement, migration, and a greater number of refugees. This is due to more frequent and severe natural disasters as well as diminished agricultural yields. Moving can disrupt girls’ education, and for families who must stay in refugee camps, there are formidable barriers to accessing schooling; according to the UNHCR, half of the world’s 3.5 million refugee children do not attend school, and girl refugees are only half as likely as boys to attend secondary school. One reason is that refugee families often heavily rely on their daughters for domestic tasks like taking care of a younger sibling in addition to fetching water or fuel. Furthermore, many schools for refugees lack appropriate toilet facilities and menstrual supplies. There is even fear amongst girls of sexual assualt at school.
Even for girls who don’t have to move, rising temperatures can negatively affect academic outcomes. Studies have shown that heat is associated with lower economic productivity in adults, which could also impact children’s ability to learn. Furthermore, higher levels of pollution are linked with both lower school attendance and lower test scores.
Girls, climate change, and the SDGs
Although climate change affects everyone, its repercussions will be felt disproportionately by girls. Today on International Day of the Girl– as well as throughout the rest of the year- we must take into account how the Sustainable Development Goals of gender equality (goal 5), quality education (goal 4), and climate action (goal 13) are all interconnected. By operating from this intersectional perspective, we can work toward a healthier planet that is also fairer to girls.
When a girl has access to education, she is more likely to grow into a woman who is healthier, participates in the formal labor market, has less children, marries later in life, and earns a higher income. As the World Bank affirms, “all these factors combined can help lift households, communities, and nations out of poverty.” It is thus crucial that we make sure families aren’t dissuaded from educating their daughters due to climate-exacerbated issues.
By: Alise Brillault
Cover photo credit: United Nations Photo on Visualhunt.com / CC BY-NC-ND