Are women the other forgotten solution?

Named by Project Drawdown as two of the top ten most powerful levers for reducing emissions, the education of women and girls, and support for family planning were two hot topics of discussion at the Friday morning session “To Act on Climate, Empower Women” of the Global Climate Action Summit.

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With panelists from Mayor Cllr Zandile Gumede of Durban, South Africa to Ségolène Royal, the President of COP21, to Jennifer Morgan from Greenpeace International, this session delved into the role that women should play in mitigating climate change and how they are often forgotten at the decision-making table at the same time. While it has been documented that women are a key solution to the climate crisis, they are at the same time disproportionately affected by climate change. Panelists agreed that it is only when women’s voices are fully included in the discussion that any pledges for climate action will be successful.

Across the panels, the important topic of ensuring the protection of women’s human rights through educating young girls and securing access to reproductive health choices illustrated just how critical it is to empower women from a young age to become leaders in climate action. According to the Brookings Institute, even one year of investment in girls’ education can help increase a community’s response to climate disaster and that there’s a clear link between higher levels of female education and lower rates of fertility. Through education initiatives like the youth training held by the South African International Maritime Institute (SAIMI), as discussed by Mayor Cllr Zandile Gumede, girls and women are learning critical skills to be leaders in their communities and protect the environment around them. Empowering those educated women to become leaders has been shown to be incredibly effective in conservation efforts in communities. However, only 24 percent of the 173 delegates to the U.N. Forum on Forests, 12 percent of the heads of 881 national environmental sector ministries and 4 percent of 92 national member committee chairs to the World Energy Council are women.

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Women have been forgotten at the decision-making table, despite them being such a critical part of the climate solution. There is long established rhetoric about how important women and other marginalized communities are to stopping climate change, but there is little evidence they are equally present in discussions. Through organizations like the Women’s Environment and Development Organization, We Care Solar, and the Mary Robinson Foundation for Climate Justice all represented on the panel this morning, we are learning how to get women to the table equipped with the knowledge to make their contributions respected and heard. These organizations note that now the discussion has turned to urgency. Women produce the majority of the world’s food, yet only own 20% of the land globally. If women had equal access to means of production, they would increase agricultural production by 20-30% and could feed 150 million more people immediately. With issues like a global food crisis looming due to climate change, these are the urgent challenges facing us now. Empowering young girls and women provides a solution to these challenges. A solution that should not be forgotten.

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