Girls’ Education is a Powerful Tool for Fighting Climate Change


April 22 marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, which has played an important role in building greater environmental awareness. Its recognition only grows more important with each passing year.

Earth Day 2020 is dedicated to the urgency of climate change and the vast opportunities the world has to mitigate it. A growing body of evidence suggests girls’ education is key in our global efforts to build greater environmental awareness and contain climate change.

Recent research by the Brookings Institute concludes “climate action that is gender-sensitive, gender-responsive, and gender-transformative can bring about the systems-level change needed, not only to eliminate gender inequality, but also to achieve a sustainable, just, equitable, and fair human society.” Educating girls around the globe raises their awareness of climate change, which allows them to become better environmental stewards.

In addition, the nonprofit Project Drawdown finds that equitable education around the globe grants better opportunities for girls and women to live better lives and to make meaningful, positive impacts on the environment. “Education also shores up resilience and equips girls and women to face the impacts of climate change,” notes Project Drawdown. “They can be more effective stewards of food, soil, trees, and water, even as nature’s cycles change. They have greater capacity to cope with shocks from natural disasters and extreme weather events.”

This research clearly demonstrates that educating girls helps pave the way toward a more environmentally responsible society. To that end, girls’ schools are doing some of the most powerful work in in this area, helping girls to become more politically, economically, socially, and culturally conscious citizens.

Recent research shows powerful impacts made in girls’ schools:

  • Graduates from girls’ schools are more active in volunteerism and more interested in community development compared to graduates of coeducational schools.
  • Over a third of girls’ schools graduates report it is “very important” or “essential” to be involved in environmentally minded programs.
  • Students who attend girls’ schools are more likely to plan to vote in local, state, and national elections than their coeducational peers, and are more likely to keep up to date with important political affairs.
  • Girls’ school alumnae are more likely to have publicly communicated their opinion about a cause in the past year.

Taking care of the planet will also require more equitable leadership and innovation opportunities for women—and girls’ schools are unique incubators for aspiring women leaders. Over 90 percent of girls’ school graduates say they were “offered greater leadership opportunities than peers at coed schools,” for example. Girls’ schools have no glass ceilings. They create environments without assumptions about what girls like or prefer, because no one is telling them certain skills or subjects are “just for boys” or that they’re too difficult to master.

Elsewhere, research by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has found that just 35% of STEM students in higher education globally are women. More women are needed in STEM fields, which will prove critical in protecting the environment. Girls’ school educators have made major progress in identifying and removing barriers that discourage girls from engaging in STEM-related pursuits. As Anne-Marie Trevelyan, the U.K.’s secretary of state for international development recently told PBS, “Giving girls 12 years of quality education is key to addressing a whole host of global challenges… Good secondary science education brings a better understanding of climate change and a greater urgency to tackle it. Today’s girls are tomorrow’s leading scientists, campaigners and politicians.”

It is also worth noting some of the most important environmental activists throughout history have been women. “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson is often credited with launching the modern environmental movement. Today’s most recognizable climate activist is 17-year-old Greta Thunberg. Her work is a powerful example of young women’s capacity for leadership and civic engagement, the kind made possible through equitable education. Role models like Carson and Thunberg are vitally important in order for girls to “see it to be it.”

Earth Day is an opportunity to highlight not just the urgency of greater environmental awareness, but the impact girls’ schools are making by providing young women the equitable education they need to lead us into a more just future.

Megan Murphy, Executive Director, National Coalition of Girls’ Schools

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