Why keeping girls in school is a good strategy to cope with climate change – NPR

by | Aug 24, 2022 | Climate Change

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Tawonga Zakeyu of Malawi graduated from Earth University in Costa Rica in December 2021 and now teaches women farmers how to cope with the challenges posed by a changing climate. Hint: Drip irrigation using recycled plastic bottles is a big help during a drought.

Hellenah Khunga

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Hellenah Khunga

Tawonga Zakeyu is the oldest of 13 siblings. She grew up in Machinga District in the southern region of Malawi, the 12th-poorest country in the world. Zakeyu is working for an organization called CAMFED – the Campaign for Female Education – on a key, often-overlooked strategy in the fight against the climate crisis: women’s and girls’ education. And her own life story is an illustration of the many different benefits of this strategy. Thanks to CAMFED, she finished high school and college, studied abroad in Costa Rica and learned Spanish, and at the age of 24, she lives on her own, does work she loves, sends extra money back home and isn’t thinking about getting married any time soon.

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Tawonga Zakeyu applies fertilizer to lettuce crops as part of her agricultural training at Earth University.

Tawonga Zakeyu

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Tawonga Zakeyu

“It feels good that I’m contributing to someone’s life,” she says. “I can see the impact I’m making in a girl child’s life.” Organizations like Drawdown and the Brookings Institution affirm that universal, high-quality education for all genders is key to tackling the climate crisis. The most direct reason is that when girls are allowed to stay in school, they tend to wait longer to get married. This is especially important in countries like Malawi, where the average age of a woman at first birth was 19 in 2016, and women go on to have an average of four children. Educated girls, like Zakeyu, also become more economically empowered, which gives them more agency to access health-care services like birth control.

Unfortunately, the COVID pandemic was a major setback for girls’ education in particular. Lockdowns shuttered schools around the world. Low-income countries suffered economically and on average took much longer to reopen schools. And girls were pushed to take on caregiving responsibilities and paid work. As a result, UNICEF calculated that over the next ten years, up to 10 million more girls are at the risk of becoming child brides. The nexus between fertility and climate can be a tricky issue to talk about ethically. These organizations are clear that, first, rich countries are far more responsible for carbon emissions, and second, that coercive reproductive policies have no place in a climate agenda that respects human rights. Still, Drawdown, a nonprofit which focuses on solutions to the climate crisis, calculates that investment in voluntary – key word – family planning programs, together with universal high-quality education, could reduce global emissions of greenhouse gases by 68.90 giga …

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