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How can education help advance gender equality in climate change?

At the COP26 Gender Day this week, ministers and experts gathered to discuss how gender equality must be advanced within climate action. 

At NCFE, we believe that through shaping smarter learning, we can help to build a fairer society, create opportunities to progress, and ensure no learner is left behind, regardless of their status or background. This means helping more individuals to realise their true potential – in turn, establishing more sustainable communities.

The current situation

The UN has found that women are far more vulnerable to the effects of climate change than men: “Women commonly face higher risks and greater burdens from the impacts of climate change in situations of poverty, and the majority of the world’s poor are women. Women’s unequal participation in decision-making processes and labour markets compound inequalities and often prevent women from fully contributing to climate-related planning, policy-making and implementation.”

Internationally, the climate crisis is a major threat to girls’ education, as climate-related disasters disrupt nearly 40 million children’s education every year. Ensuring that girls can access 12 years of quality education supports them to be more resilient to climate shocks and empowers them to lead change, including to help address the climate crisis.

Outcomes of the COP26 Gender Day

As hosts of COP26, the UK has been urging countries around the world to put gender equality at the heart of climate action. The new UK funding announced to address the dual challenge of gender inequality and climate change includes:

  • Up to £45 million to empower local communities and grassroots women’s groups in Asia and the Pacific to challenge gender inequalities and adapt to the impacts of climate change
  • £120 million to build resilience, prevent pollution, protect biodiversity, strengthen renewable energy and better manage waste, while also supporting women’s leadership, access to finance, education and skills in Bangladesh.

The UK’s International Champion on Adaptation and Resilience, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, said: “It is women, girls and those who are already most marginalised, that will be most severely impacted by climate change. But they also have a critical role to play to address the climate crisis. The UK is committed to addressing this dual challenge head on, committing new funding to empower communities and women’s groups to take locally-led adaptation action, to build local, national and global resilience.”

Wendy Morton, Minister for Europe and the Americas, also revealed the UK’s new commitment to develop a FCDO girls’ education and climate policy to help secure concerted global action on climate change in the education sector, to prevent climate change disrupting girls’ education and empowering them to take climate action.

How education can boost progress

Education has a key role to play in addressing gender inequality, particularly in climate change given the UN’s findings. Education is transformative; it brings about awareness and it champions solutions.

The government’s ten-point plan for a green industrial revolution will see the creation of up to 250,000 green jobs in many different sectors, and we must ensure that women are equipped with the knowledge and skills – as well as the means and motivation – to access these opportunities.

For women already in the workforce, we need to help them understand how their skills and experience can map across to jobs related to climate action, and provide them with transferable skills they’ll need so that no one is left behind.

We’re committed to embedding sustainability into the curriculum, throughout all our products and services. We’re working with established and emerging experts in the industry to identify areas of need and to help develop clear pathways into green jobs.

This must start from the early years and run right through the education system – explaining to young girls that they can have “green jobs”, breaking down stereotypes, and communicating the different pathways they can take to a career in this field.

The need to encourage more women into STEM jobs has been highlighted for many years, but becomes even more important through the lens of climate change. A diverse, equal workforce is needed to discover and implement solutions to this issue, so the drive to encourage more girls into STEM-related fields must be accelerated.

We’re working closely with many partners in the science sector to ensure that we develop qualifications, content and resources that will prepare more young people for a successful career in STEM, where they can make a real difference on issues such as climate change.

The importance of visible role models

We know there are many great female role models working in the green sector, including Tracy Machnicki at Britishvolt and Charlotte Bonner at The Education and Training Foundation – two organisations we work closely with here at NCFE. It’s important that we highlight their work and amplify their voices on this subject, to inspire women of the next generation.

Charlotte Bonner, National Head of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) at The Education and Training Foundation (ETF), said: “Social responsibility and eradicating inequality is an integral part of the sustainability agenda – the two are intrinsically linked. By reducing gender inequalities, we can ensure the solutions to climate change and other sustainability challenges are equitable and just.

“We know that further education breaks down barriers for people of all gender identities. Through offering lifelong learning, our sector supports the journey towards social justice. Our new #InclusiveFE page includes information about various support available including a new Advancing Equality in FE course, thought provoking podcasts and articles and signposts to various relevant ETF offers.”

Tracy Machnicki, Social Value Manager / Managing Director of BV FutureGen Foundation at Britishvolt, commented: “The energy transition is a real opportunity to raise the awareness of diversity and inclusion in business. ESG, social values and inclusion and belonging are pillars of the Britishvolt model; bringing more girls into the battery space is essential and will enhance the industry.

“With the clean energy business offering fresh opportunities, it is the perfect time for women to take the helm and deliver the employment of the future. This is a really amazing time for the planet. COP26 is the perfect platform to amplify this message.”

As always, collaboration between the education sector, employers and government is vital to making real progress when it comes to gender equality in climate change.

We’ll be continuing our work with industry stakeholders to ensure our products and services are setting women up for successful careers in STEM and climate action. We’ll also be furthering our commitment to help break down barriers to education, enabling everyone to access the highest quality of education – to both address climate change-related gender inequalities and to empower women to become future leaders in climate action.

Additionally, soon we’ll be launching our newly developed Level 3 Certificate in Championing Sustainability in the Workplace. On completion of the certificate, learners will have the opportunity to use their skills in the workplace as a sustainability champion or within an entry level sustainability role (such as a sustainability coordinator or assistant). They may also progress into higher education in a variety of green roles. You can read more information on this qualification here