International Day of the Girl Child: School, Skills and Sustainable Futures

Welcome to our blog, the Human Righter. We shed light on contemporary human rights issues and comment on human rights developments. We dig deep into our focus areas within human rights, discuss SDGs and human rights. You will also find book reviews and analyses of new laws.

This blog post was written by Jessica Louise Henn, Intern at the Jakarta Office. 

In 2022, we commemorate the 10th anniversary of the International Day of the Girl (IDG). In these last 10 years, there has been increased attention on issues that matter to girls amongst governments, policymakers and the general public, and more opportunities for girls to have their voices heard on the global stage – United Nations

Around the world deeply rooted gender norms and patriarchal structures mean that girls living in poverty are frequently the most affected by the harmful impacts of climate change. Natural disasters and extreme weather often result in girls leaving school to take on work or care responsibilities to support their families. Even post disaster research has shown that girls are less likely than boys to return to education with the Malala fund estimating that climate related events prevented at least 4 million girls in lower- and middle-income countries from completing their education in 2021, with this expected to increase to 12.5 million by 2025(1)

Environmental crises also increase girls’ vulnerability to child marriage. These events trigger economic shocks which are felt most profoundly by agricultural indigenous communities who rely on the environment for their livelihoods. Child marriage is often seen as a means to reduce the financial burden on families as it means there is one less mouth to feed and traditional dowry payments help cushion economic stresses. Amongst displaced communities the rate of child marriage has also shown to be markedly higher and thus as climate-induced displacement continues to grow, so too does girls’ vulnerability to underage marriage(2).

Whilst it is necessary to recognise the specific vulnerabilities of girls to climate change it is important that girls are not reduced to mere victims. Far from being passive, girls are in fact leading the way as agents of change within the climate movement. Girls have been prominent leaders of social movements calling for climate justice such as Fridays for Future lead by Greta Thunberg. This movement has seen thousands of students go on climate strike worldwide – the majority of whom have been girls. Girls have also led the way in climate litigation with girls like Ridhima Pandey, Rabab Ali, Anjali Sharma and Luisa Neubauer all bringing environmental lawsuits to the courts. Studies have also proven that states with higher rates of female participation in climate action have better  environmental outcomes, including the increased likelihood of ratifying environmental treaties, stricter climate change policies(3), and lower carbon emissions(4).

Despite their valuable contributions, no country currently recognises the important role of girls in addressing climate change. A study of 160 National Determined Contributions (NDCs) shows that only three NDCs mention girls(5). Girls instead tend to be subsumed into the category of women, yet the 43% of NDCs which do reference women largely refer to them as victims rather than agents of change. If countries wish to build a sustainable future and honour the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, girls’ education must be mainstreamed as an essential climate mitigation and adaptation measure. Access to education addresses inequalities which underpin girls’ particular vulnerability to climate change by enhancing economic opportunities and improving livelihoods. When girls are better educated, families and communities can more easily recover from economic shocks triggered by environmental crises which subsequently lowers the risk of girls leaving school and of child marriage. Education also has been shown to equip girls with life-saving skills, with fatalities and injuries due to natural disasters reduced by more than half amongst educated girls.

Research also indicates that girls’ education can also help states enhance their climate strategies by giving girls the skills to pursue ‘green’ jobs in climate adaptation and mitigation. In order to address the climate crisis, green solutions grounded in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM) are needed more than ever. Providing girls with  skills in STEM subjects is essential for driving green innovation and sustainable development as well as promoting economic opportunities for women. However, gender discrimination within this fields remains pervasive, and women continue to be discouraged from pursuing STEM careers. This not only inhibits the development of innovative adaptation and mitigation technologies for sustainable futures but also perpetuates generational gender inequality as women are denied the same opportunities as men to develop careers in the lucrative STEM job market.

It is clear that there are powerful linkages between education for girls, the fulfilment of girls’ rights, and climate adaptation and mitigation measures. Yet, national climate change policies continue to overlook the importance of educating girls and its role in climate change adaptation and mitigation. This policy blind spot not only harms girls by failing to fulfil their basic rights, but also misses a vital opportunity to enhance national climate resilience and a sustainable future which will benefit all of society. On the international day of the girl child, it is important to highlight the necessity of addressing girls’ education within climate policy in order to realize sustainable development built on the foundations of social, gender, and climate justice.

  1. Malala Fund.(2021) A greener, fairer future: Why leaders need to invest in climate and girls’ education
  2. UNICEF (2021) Child Marriage: An Evidence Review.
  3. Norgaard, K., & York, R. (2005). Gender Equality and State Environmentalism. Gender and Society19(4), 506–522.
  4. Mavisakalyan, Astghik; Tarverdi, Yashar (2018) : Gender and climate change: Do female parliamentarians make difference?, GLO Discussion Paper, No. 221, Global Labor Organization (GLO), Maastricht
  5. Kwauk, Cooke, Hara and Pegram (2019) Girls’ education in climate strategies: Opportunities for improved policy and enhanced action in Nationally Determined Contributions. GLOBAL ECONOMY & DEVELOPMENT WORKING PAPER 133
Share with your friends
Scroll to top