Four Things You Didn’t Know About Climate Change and Girls

World policymakers are meeting in Paris for COP21 to continue hammering out an agreement to manage emissions in an attempt to stem global warming. But did you know that climate change is a gender issue?

Girls and women are some of the most vulnerable people in the world even before disaster strikes. They earn less money and have less independence than boys and men. That means when extreme weather events hit communities, girls and women bear the brunt of the impact. They have fewer resources with which to cope and higher rates of displacement – and they are more likely to die. Here are four ways that climate change becomes a gender issue:

Fewer girls in school

On whose shoulders do the bulk of household chores, such as collecting water and firewood, fall? Girls and women. When these vital resources become scarce, they have to spend more time looking for them. To make up for the extra drain on householders’ time, girls are more likely to get pulled out of school than boys to help make sure the family has water and fuel.

Getting more girls and young women participating in global events such as COP21 means their voices get heard.

So, what can be done to ensure girls’ education doesn’t suffer due to the effects of climate change? Education. That’s right: when girls can access information about how to adapt to a changing climate, they can contribute to the resilience of their families and communities. In fact, Unicef says educating girls and women may be one of the best ways for communities to adapt to the negative effects of climate change.

Disasters hit girls hardest – physically

With fewer resources closer to home, girls have to travel greater distances to find water and firewood. Girls, whether on their own or with other girls, are vulnerable to physical and sexual violence from boys and men. Needing water and fuel for cooking shouldn’t mean that girls pay with their security. And, when disaster strikes, as it did in thePhilippines two years ago with Typhoon Haiyan, millions of girls and women become extra vulnerable to sexual exploitation, violence and trafficking. Rates of domestic violence also rise during disasters.

That’s why any response to natural disasters must include special measures that protect girls and women: from ensuring water points and latrines are well-placed and well-lit in any camps or settlements to including services that help prevent gender-based violence.

More child marriage

Flooding, coastal and river erosion, cyclones – an increase in all of these extreme weather events has been linked to climate change. When that happens, families’ homes come under threat; some are washed away completely. Families living in poverty whose lives have dramatically changed due to climate change – from Bangladesh and India to East Africa – feel they have little choice but to lighten the economic burden. That leads them to force their young daughters into marriage. Child brides leave school prematurely, have a higher chance of contracting sexually transmitted infections and have more complications from pregnancy and childbirth. Nobody wins.

As the most affected, girls can provide unique and locally relevant insights. That’s why they’re best placed to shine a light on the issues that impact them and the lives of their families. Getting more girls and young women participating in global events such as COP21 means their voices get heard. Ensuring that countries on the frontline of climate change, such as Bangladesh, honour their commitments to end child marriage is the first step.

Girls = opportunities

Girls have a unique potential to change the world. That means they have a central role to play in families who rely on farming or livestock when coping with extreme weather events such as drought. International aid agencies such as Mercy Corps and Plan International have identified the value that girls could bring to families and communities during desperate times. They could increase their prospects through education, or improve their skills so they can contribute to the family economically. By doing so, they could help make families more resilient to climate change.

Over the next fortnight, as world leaders negotiate the terms for lowering global emissions and financing action on climate change, they need to make sure girls get the resources to become part of the solution, rather than a consequence of the problem.