Educating girls for climate action
As the UK Prime Minister’s Special Envoy on Girls’ Education, I am lucky enough to meet girls and governments in many different countries.
Last week I was delighted to visit Nepal to learn more about the challenges, and solutions, to increase girls’ education in response to the school closures because of the devastating Covid-19 pandemic. I wanted to understand first-hand the climate change threats, and how girls and women have a vital role in Nepal’s response.
From Kathmandu to Karnali, I saw the impact of the ‘perfect storm’ of Covid-19 and climate change. It’s clear that girls’ education has been particularly badly affected. I heard how families’ finances are under pressure, making it increasingly likely girls will drop out of school and be forced into early marriage. I saw the aftermath of climate-related damage like flooding and landslides to school buildings, creating further disruption for students.
These challenges are not minor setbacks, especially when we recognise how important education is in shaping a global response to climate change. Education builds the skills, confidence and capacity of young women and men, and therefore our collective ability to respond to more frequent natural disasters, extreme weather, and conflict over scarce natural resources.
The double burden of climate and Covid, Nepali Times
Today, and every day, girls’ education must be prioritised. In #Nepal last week, I saw first-hand the impacts that climate change is having on girls' education, but I also met inspiring women and girls who want to join the fight. More here 👇 pic.twitter.com/E7WmoMVRzw
— Helen Grant (@HelenGrantMP) October 11, 2021
And promisingly, it seems clear that young people will step up, if supported. UNICEF has interesting research showing that young people in South Asia want to know more about the science and practical examples of both climate-related damage and adaptation.
Most acknowledge that the effects of climate change are disturbing their education: heatwaves inevitably make it hard to concentrate, and flooding prevents them from travelling to school. But the good news is that 85% want to do something about it.
My experience in Nepal completely backs up that research. After majestic views of the Himalayas on a flight to Surkhet, I met a truly inspiring group of young women. They explained how Karnali province was susceptible to floods and landslides but emphasised how local action and female empowerment could lead the response.
I am proud that British support to the Girls’ Education Challenge and wonderful organisations like the VSO helped this group to advance girls’ rights. They have supported marginalised younger girls to stay in school and learn effectively.
They have convinced parents and communities to outlaw child marriage, tackle menstrual taboos such as chhaupadi, and rebalance chores so they do not impede older girls’ education and empowerment.
As I continued my journey by road, to the green and golden Tarai lowland and the ‘river island’ delta of Rajapur, I saw their incredibly rich farmland. The monsoon and glacial melt combine to wash down a billion tonnes of alluvial silt, creating a threat for agriculture-dependent communities, at risk of severe flooding.
Here too women bear the brunt, almost two-thirds of women work in the vulnerable agriculture sector, as opposed to less than half of the total men. I met a wonderful group of Janjati women farmers who had boosted productivity with a climate resilient, low maintenance water supply to irrigate paddy fields and vegetable farms.
What is more, UK support and local engineers had worked together to hedge against unpredictable flood surges by building, for example, raised flood shelters with ramps.
It is undeniable that women and girls are among the most vulnerable to climate shocks, but just as they’re part of the solution. That is one of the reasons why the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has put girls’ education high up on the global agenda, to support all girls to complete 12 years of quality education.
We have set an ambitious target to get 40 million girls back into school, and with higher learning levels in the coming five years. We backed that up at the London Global Education Summit in July, where international partners raised $4 billion to support education globally, including in Nepal.
Two weeks before I arrived, Nepal’s development partners, led by the British Embassy Kathmandu and the World Bank, signed a landmark agreement to support Nepal with $7.4 billion of investment to ensure a green, resilient, and inclusive recovery from Covid-19. This finance will accelerate Nepal’s ability to cut carbon emissions, whilst supporting job creation, renewables, and growth in the green economy.
Next month, the UK is hosting COP26, the UN Climate Change Conference, which will bring together leaders from around the world to agree on action to tackle the urgent threat of global climate change. The science is clear and unequivocal: human influence is warming our atmosphere, our lands and our oceans. No one is immune to the devastating effects of climate change, but it’s hitting the poorest and most vulnerable hardest.
Women in climate hot spots face challenges adapting, Marty Logan
When Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba arrives at the COP26 conference, I’m sure he’ll make clear Nepal’s potential, ambition, and need for climate finance. But amidst the talk of billions of green investment and carbon dioxide emission cuts, on the International Day of the Girl Child on 11 October we must not forget that the poorest and most vulnerable girls and women already suffer the worst impact of climate change and are least able to adapt.
In the countdown to the annual Dasain festivities that were gathering pace as I departed, I was told how unusual it was for the rains to still be falling. Freak occurrence, or just another example of climate change affecting weather patterns?
What I do know is there is one sure way to reduce risks and safeguard the future: educating girls. Through education, girls and women are not only empowered to improve their own lives, but they can also drive change in their communities and help families and neighbours adapt to climate impacts and build more inclusive societies.
Helen Grant was appointed in January 2021 as the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister’s Special Envoy on Girls’ Education.