Those most affected can have the most effect — The impact of climate change on gender inequality and minorities, and the power of empowerment

Climate change is having a disproportionately negative impact on girls, women and minorities around the world.

When empowered, those same girls, women and minorities can have a disproportionately positive impact on climate change around the world.

This is Man’s biggest opportunity to right two wrongs.

Climate change is existential right now. Gender inequality places girls and women in low- income countries on the front line when climate crises hit. Already vulnerable, they fall deeper into poverty, face increased health and sanitation risks, and must take on even more domestic and care responsibilities as resources become scarce.

In remote minorities with limited access to resources, fundamental traditions and ways of life are being lost forever due to changing weather patterns and seasonal disruption. Right around the world, girls, women and minorities in isolated communities are subjected to violence as a result of the conflict for resources, and unable to live off the land to sustain themselves.

“Most of the people living below the poverty line are women and girls, so poverty exacerbates this vulnerability. People who have less resources and often women of colour have less options to adapt and to cope.”
Flavia Maia, Filha do Sol

Eighty to ninety percent of the countries that bear the biggest social cost of climate change contribute less than twenty five percent to the problem, and in those countries anyone who experiences inequality, women of colour, indigenous women, older women, those with disabilities, and LGBTQI+ people, will be even more invisible in the very near future when climate crises are the constant.

How does a melting ice cap impact gender and minorities?

Because we’re all interconnected. Planet and people, part of one global ecosystem where our combined actions set off a chain of events right around the world.

In the case of accelerated global warming, this has been negative, but it’s crucial to remember that, equally, making changes together can have an incredibly positive and powerful impact.

The 7 steps that connect climate change to gender inequality and minorities:

1. Burning fossil fuels and living unsustainably is creating excess levels of CO, and greenhouse gases, which is accelerating global warming.

2. This warming is causing the melting of the Antarctic ice sheet at a rapid rate and the expansion of oceans as they absorb warmer air.

3. The rising sea levels are causing changes to global weather patterns.

4. These weather patterns cause extremes to occur, like heavy, prolonged rain and hot, dry periods.

5. This is resulting in flooding and droughts.

6. In low-income countries these events become a crisis as they have neither the infrastructure nor resources to manage the situation.

7. In a crisis, gender inequality is amplified and threats multiplied for those who are most vulnerable.

Women, who are typically responsible for domestic and care duties, have to work harder to secure food, fuel and income for the family. Girls are pulled out of education to work, or to be married-off for livestock, and the walk for water becomes longer and more dangerous.

For Dr Flavia Maia, Founder and CEO of Filha do Sol, this is something she has witnessed first-hand.

“I can see here in my community and in many others in the Brazilian northeast, when something like water is scarce, women must walk miles and miles to get to drinking water and carry big buckets of water on their shoulders and their heads. The paths to these drinking water sources are not safe, they face rape or other forms of violence, and I think this is why 80% of refugees globally are women and girls.”

Education is the answer

“Want climate action? Educate girls” – for Michele Malejki, Global Head of Social Impact at HP, keeping girls in education is how we as a human race best fight inequality and climate change. And she’s not alone, in ‘Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed To Reverse Global Warming’, author Paul Hawken places Educating Girls at number 6 in the top 100 ways to stop climate change, such is the power it could have.

“If you want to solve the climate crisis, educate women and keep them in education.”

Educating girls has the potential to reduce emissions by 51 gigatons by 2050 (that’s more than solar), according to UNESCO, and a Brookings Institute study suggests that for every year of schooling a girl receives, her country’s resilience to climate disasters will improve by 3.2 points.

The potential solution to climate change is, however, threatened by climate change. In 2021 figures showed climate-related events prevented four million girls from finishing education, and this number is projected to rise to 12.5 million by 2025. The worse climate change gets, the more girls leave school to help out, and the further away from leading change they get.

“If you want to solve the climate crisis, educate women and keep them in education”, Michele says. “Twelve straight years of education builds skills and competencies that improve climate adaptation, mitigation and resilience. It enables them to better withstand extreme weather shocks, be more effective stewards of food, water, soil, and equips them with critical skills to support processing risk, as well as driving greater political participation and decision-making.”

The power of inclusivity

When you empower a suppressed or overlooked voice with the space to be heard, be that a girl in a low-income country or an First Nation person, you not only get fresh thinking but also traditional thinking, and that’s a powerful combination. “Women are the ones who are already promoting change because they are the healers”, says Flavia about the communities in the Brazilian northeast. “They are the caretakers, they are the educators. So, it’s an interesting paradox because they are the most impacted, but also the most impactful. And they could do even more with the proper support – we need to start seeing local women on the front lines.”

“There’s just so much more we can do. We need to be in more spaces, have more voices and be part of negotiations…”

Indigenous people make up four percent of the world’s population, but protect eighty percent of the world’s biodiversity, a fact that puts into perspective the global role they play. Their intertwined connection with the earth and reliance on the land makes them the perfect leaders on how to live more sustainably at scale, and they are now, crucially, being invited to influential climate conversations.

Danielle Kehler, member of the Kawacatoose First Nation in Canada, was part of a delegation of indigenous people at COP27, and the first First Nations person from Canada to go on a 2041 foundation expedition to Antarctica. For Danielle, representation on the world stage is key.

“There’s just so much more we can do. We need to be in more spaces, have more voices and be part of other negotiations, because this knowledge that we hold is sustainability. Getting this knowledge into these spaces is really what’s going to shift and pivot climate change, what we have to offer can change everything when we merge our ways with western science, that is how we preserve Mother Earth.”

“…natural elements as relatives, not resources.”

For Flavia, tapping into the knowledge of the world’s indigenous people will be key to fighting climate change. “It’s not only the most vulnerable, but those with precious knowledge that we will lose. They are connected to the cycles, to the rhythm of nature. They know when to fish, they know how the tides move. For these communities, the land is not something to be owned or sold, but something people relate to, they see natural elements as relatives, not resources.”

Together as one, equal in all

Greater connections, more inclusive conversations, and a commitment to collective leadership is our best weapon in the fight against climate change. Securing 12 years of education for girls in low-income countries should be a goal for all of us, so they are equipped and empowered to remove gender inequality and reverse climate change.

On the global stage, disparate minorities and indigenous people should be invited to teach and lead change, bringing their intimate understanding of the land to people from all backgrounds.

“Seeing ourselves as creative and compassionate human beings that can address climate change is about emotions as much as about emissions”, says Flavia. “We need to address the root causes of climate change and build relationships across different cultures so we can work together.”

In indigenous culture, warriors are the ones who always protected our people and made sure that they were safe”, says Danielle. “Now, we need warriors on the front lines, behind desks, in politics. We need them in policymaking, we need them in schools, as engineers, as scientists. We need warriors in every single space.”

Bottom line, if we’re going to reduce climate change together, we need to be more inclusive and equal.