Inclusive quality education: key to climate and gender justice


COP26 has been postponed due to COVID-19 but girls around the world are still raising their voices and calling for urgent action on climate change. Inclusive gender-responsive education is fundamental for progress towards climate and gender justice, write experts Jess Cooke and Leah Moss.

Saturday 12th December 2020 marks 5 years since the Paris Agreement was adopted.

Despite research highlighting the links between girls’ education and country-level resilience, no national climate strategy currently recognises girls’ education as a response to the crisis. At the Global Climate Ambition Summit world leaders need to present ambitious climate strategies to urgently curb emissions to keep global temperatures below 1.5°C and scale up climate financing and investment in women and girls’ rights.

We will be watching to see how new commitments and statements around financing and adaptation are directed to support climate and gender justice, particularly for girls around the world bearing the brunt of the crisis.

Girls are demanding action on climate change

Girls around the world are raising their voices and calling for change. In Bangladesh and Ethiopia girls are demanding equal access to quality education and information, especially on climate change, as well as greater participation in climate decision-making . An inclusive gender-responsive education is fundamental for driving progress towards climate and gender justice with the power to shift the way we think about others and the world around us. It should include basic knowledge of climate science and an emphasis on building skills and changing attitudes that will drive sustainable and pro-environmental behaviours.

Education has the power to eliminate barriers for girls in development and implementation of climate strategies

At its most transformative, education equips girls and young women with the skills and knowledge they need to tackle the climate crisis while helping dismantle harmful stereotypes about women and men and their role in decision making spaces. It therefore has the power to eliminate the key barrier girls’ face in meaningfully engaging in the development and implementation of national climate strategies.

As Yande, from the UNGEI Educate4Equality panel says “We have the solution to some of the biggest problems in one little girl or one woman, whoever it may be. We just need to redesign the system to ensure we bring out that potential so that they can do what needs to be done.”

Girls can play a critical role in climate adaptation

We must all acknowledge the critical role girls can play in climate adaptation and mitigation. Investing in resilient education systems that are responsive to the needs of girls will not only reduce the likelihood of girls dropping out of school but will help create the next women leaders of climate decision-making. 

COVID-19 presents an opportunity for decision makers to transform education systems for the better.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has serious implications for girls’ education and has disrupted schooling for over 1.5 billion learners,  it also presents an opportunity for decision makers to transform education systems for the better. This includes prioritising resilience strengthening to ensure education systems can anticipate and respond to climate shocks and stresses and prepare for the increasing number of people who are being displaced as a result. 

Quality of learning is fundamental for girls’ future ability to navigate and respond to the climate crisis. In most schools today, students are taught from an outdated curriculum that is the product of a patriarchal and imperialist system. This mode of thinking perpetuates a culture of oppression and dominance over people and planet, thereby undermining climate action and the care and regeneration needed to live in harmony with nature. It also tends to reinforce gender stereotypes and dictates future career paths for girls and boys.

Girls are often discouraged from pursuing Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), economics and politics, limiting their potential for civic engagement and leadership in a greener economy and climate diplomacy roles. This is demonstrated in the renewable energy industry where women make up just 20-25%  of the workforce and in climate diplomacy where only 35% of national delegates were women in the year the Paris Agreement was finalised.

Beyond the individual: it’s time for systemic change

The time is now. COVID-19 has highlighted the need to question outdated, traditional modes of thinking in order to adapt to an increasingly uncertain world which desperately requires concrete commitments to gender and climate justice. Education policy makers must recognise the importance of climate education and resilience and the central role of girls’ leadership alongside more foundational learning outcomes such as literacy and numeracy. We must work harder to challenge the status quo of how climate change is taught in schools.

While the science behind climate change is vital, we must expand this narrow focus to explore the broader social and political dimensions of the climate crisis. This requires striking the right balance between promoting individual actions such as recycling, which disproportionately burden individuals and a holistic systems approach that recognises the essential role of governments and corporations in tackling the climate crisis.

We must take this opportunity to realise a transformative climate education for all; one that has the power to advance gender, racial, intergenerational and climate justice. This will be the key tool in dismantling systems of oppression and domination thereby ensuring humanity can co-exist with nature and thrive within planetary boundaries.