COP28 demonstrated an increasing recognition of female-led initiatives to build resilience to climate change and understanding the impact it has on women worldwide. In the COP28 side event ‘Reservoir for Change: Girl-led action, Youth in Nature-Based Solutions & Education for Climate Action’, three speakers – Hella, Elianah Tabuai and Rasetasoa Ihobimanarivo Saotranirina discussed the impact of climate change in their respective countries including the devastating impacts of cyclones in Australia and agricultural issues in Madagascar and Iraq.

The speakers discussed various girl-led initiatives including:

  • World Association of Girl Guides & Girl Scouts: a voluntary movement which represents 8.8 million females across 153 countries, established to empower women to achieve their fullest potential, through opportunities to act in their community with projects including school gardening and climate change programmes. 
  • Decarbonize: a global child climate program which operates across 6 continents and 75 countries with hundreds of schools involved. It is the world’s largest multilingual school-based program on climate education which uses virtual technology to assist in learning about the climate and taking action. 

To effectively address the crises, the speakers emphasised the significance of compelling COP28 decision-makers to support climate education.

Impact of climate change on women

The climate crisis is not “gender neutral”. Women face the greatest impacts of climate change, which exacerbates existing gender inequalities and endangers their livelihood, health, and safety. 

Agriculture is a key employment sector for women in underdeveloped countries. During periods of drought and irregular rainfall, women must work harder to secure income and resources for their families. This increases the burden on women, and places pressure on girls who often leave education to help their mothers. The cascading effects include the increased likelihood of domestic abuse and child marriages.

While women and girls experience disproportionate impacts from climate change at the global level, the effects are not consistent around the globe. “If you are invisible in everyday life, your needs will not be thought of, let alone addressed, in a crisis situation,” says Match Phorn-In, who works to empower stateless and landless Indigenous women and girls in Thailand.

Why this matters? 

Without gender equality today, a sustainable and more equal future remains elusive. 

In the páramo ecosystem of the Ecuadorian Andes, indigenous women are using sustainable agricultural production and landscape management to restore the fragile ecosystem. Years of desertification and overgrazing left large swaths of land barren and depleted. These women-led efforts are dismantling gender stereotypes and empowering women to contribute to decision-making processes in their communities. The UN Women Representative in Ecuador, Bibiana Aido stated that the páramo project demonstrated that without women, it is impossible to talk about solutions to climate change and sustainable development. 

While women and marginalised communities are the most affected groups in the climate change crisis, they remain underrepresented in climate forums. They must be greatly involved in the design and implementation of response actions to ensure that such initiatives are truly impactful and fit for purpose and that everyone benefits equally from their success.