When drought parches wells and streams,
someone must carry water. When storms bring devastation
and disease, someone has to nurse the sick.
Climate change hits hardest on the planet’s vulnerable edges.
If women hold up half the sky, what do we do
when it seems the sky is falling?
– Barbara Kingsolver, Ripple Effect Images
On International Women’s Day, it’s hard not to think about the most vulnerable, the women all around the world whose lives are being most impacted by climate change. As Kingsolver described, it’s women and girls who are travelling farther to bring water to their homes, walking for hours a day, eliminating many girls’ already-slim chance to attend school. It’s women who cook for hours in their kitchens, breathing in the smoke from cookstoves that pollute their lungs and their air. And, it’s women who are often last to eat, even when the first responsible for putting food on their families’ plates, even in the face of increasing food scarcity.
Hillary Clinton recently echoed Madeleine Albright in saying that issues of gender equality are issues of national and global security, and the impacts of climate change are woven tightly between the two. We cannot solve the challenges of climate change without empowering and educating women, and we cannot solve our other global challenges without addressing climate change. As Time recently wrote, “If you want to change the world, invest in girls.”
Empowering female entrepreneurs and political leaders has never been more needed nor more possible. There’s Solar Sister in Africa and Barefoot College in India, training women as solar engineers and entrepreneurs; Wangari Maathai and the Green Belt Movement, planting trees and hope across Africa; dozens of groups of women constructing rainwater harvesting and catch dams. See the impact of giving female leaders better information about development decisions, training women on basic green technologies, and getting cleaner cookstoves into women’s homes.
These programs not only make women stronger, but help their families and communities. The World Food Programme reports that women who earn, invest 90 percent back into their families, and back into their communities. Investing in women means investing in communities, in truly sustainable development. Today, the problems and their solutions are closer than ever: “Help a Woman. Help the Planet.”