Climate crisis has severe impact on girls’ education – report

20 November 2023

A new report shows how extreme weather events, damaged school infrastructure, and impassable routes to schools are causing significant disruptions to girls' access to quality education in West Africa, South and Central America, the Caribbean, and Southeast Asia.

Muta, 11, Cambodia stands outside her school.
Muta, 11, travels 8km to her school each day on foot.

These disruptions not only jeopardise girls’ immediate access to schooling but also have far-reaching, long-term consequences, including increasing the risk of harmful practices like child marriage, gender-based violence, and early pregnancies.

Plan International’s latest report, “Climate Change and Girls’ Education: Barriers, Gender Norms and Pathways to Resilience,” shows the dire consequences of the climate crisis on girls’ education, highlighted by the experiences of 78 girls from eight countries facing increased climate-induced shocks.

Girls often find themselves shouldering additional household responsibilities or seeking employment outside their homes due to prevailing gender norms and poverty, resulting in disruptions to their education.

Climate disruptions make gender inequality worse

However, in regions vulnerable to the climate crisis, girls face even more formidable challenges. Climate-related disruptions intensify gender norms, leading to increased domestic responsibilities, reduced study time, and heightened financial burdens, making it difficult for both girls and their parents to afford education.

“There are children who sometimes have to cross rivers, when the river is overflowing they can’t cross because of the current”, said Stephany, a 17-year-old girl from El Salvador who took part in the study.

Reyna, a 16-year-old girl from the Philippines added, “As the daughter of a farmer and a young farmer myself, I know how it is when our crops are lost. I had to miss my classes and sometimes I can’t eat because our produce is damaged due to bad weather”.

Ahead of the 28th Conference of the Parties (COP28) scheduled to take place from 30 November to 12 December 2023, Plan International is calling on governments, donors, and civil society to support girls’ education in response to the climate crisis.

This urgent call to action is underscored by the sobering estimate from the Malala Fund, which warns that climate change will trigger the abrupt end to schooling for at least 12.5 million girls in 30 climate-vulnerable countries every year.

Key recommendations from the report include:
  • Secure safer schools: Collaborate on resilient schools and safe routes, ensuring climate resilience plans in education to minimise disruption.
  • Revamp climate education: Implement a gender-transformative climate curriculum and comprehensive teacher training to support girls to become climate leaders.
  • Include girls in decision-making: Involve girls in climate decisions, ensuring their voices are heard in policy development, especially for education continuity.
  • Finance girls’ climate education: Increase funding for gender-transformative climate education and prioritise rebuilding resilient school infrastructure.
  • Change social norms for girls’ education: Challenge norms, emphasising the value of girls’ education in community adaptation plans and awareness initiatives.

Girls’ voices on climate change are vital

“Girls’ voices on their experiences of climate change are vital to understand both how their education is threatened by climate change and in turn how their education has developed their climate adaptation skills so far,” said Keya Khandaker, Research Engagement Officer for Real Choices, Real Lives at Plan International.

“This report puts forward the case for ensuring girls’ voices and realities are meaningfully included in any climate change action. By bearing the brunt of much climate change loss and damage, girls are uniquely placed to have a key role in a climate-resilient and gender-just world”.

Plan International’s latest report offers important insights for policymakers, educators, and organisations interested in the relationship between the climate crisis and girls’ education. This report aims to provide a clearer understanding of this issue and its implications for the future. It recommends that addressing this challenge should lead to improved access to education for girls and ensure they have essential skills to tackle the climate crisis.