Originally published in Youth Ki Awaaz here
Empowering women, and especially girls, is an integral part of creating inclusive societies and achieving the UN sustainable development goals. As it is, in developing countries like India, girls face numerous challenges that compel them to discontinue their schooling and dissuade them from joining the work-force, creating vast gender-based inequalities. While many girls enrol into primary-level school, the challenge is to retain them through secondary and tertiary-level education, and thereafter, into vocational skills training to make them job-ready. And it is a well-known fact that it is very tough to make those drop-outs re-enrol in their studies.
Climate change has only compounded this problem by putting at risk the very infrastructure and the ability of the girls to continue their education and move into income-sustaining skilled jobs later. There are some ways to tackle this. Moreover, a study by the Center of Universal Education shows that a nation’s climate resilience improves if its girls remain in school.
Location, location, location! This is what most movie-directors and store-location managers are often found saying, and the same holds true for the schools where girls are enrolled. In rural regions and unplanned urban clusters, the school’s location is often the impediment. Traversing this journey through adverse climate issues, be it heavy rains, extreme heat, road damage, floods, etc. makes it worse. Construction of new primary and secondary schools in developing countries need to be planned with this in mind. The idea is to bring them closer to where the girls live. The shorter the distance, the higher the incentive not to drop-out.
The idea is also to keep the girls safe; and a shorter distance might imply less susceptibility to safety hazards, although this assumption may not always hold true. The schools that are operating currently, would not have this advantage, of being able to choose their location. Still, they can at least use mobile-based learning tools, to ensure the school reaches the girls during the periods of climate stress, albeit in an online form. With record-levels of mobile phone adoption and data connectivity, across the length and breadth of countries, this is an option that is picking steam.
Strengthening those public-services is another essential step, the absence of which, often compels girls to drop-out and contribute to household chores. Adverse climate and its impact, only makes it tougher for the girls to do those chores. Examples are, walking long distances to gather clean water, firewood for cooking or supplies from the nearest market, (all of which are often miles away). Strengthening the public-service institutions that deliver these, by bringing them closer to individual rural villages, or urban slum settlements, and ensuring their continuity through incidences of climate shocks, would go a long way in freeing up the girls from these tasks, thus reducing the chances of drop-outs. Public-services like clean water, sanitation, etc. to the schools itself, is part of this, to ensure an environment that is safe, hygienic and offers privacy when needed.
Market-demand based skills and vocational training that are not necessarily farm-dependent, as part of their secondary or tertiary education, would also help make them job-ready through climate shocks. Economic opportunities and reduction in income inequality are core parts of the UN sustainable development goals.
Moreover, in rural areas, where agriculture and agriculture-related services still remain the largest source of livelihood for most men and women, a single climate calamity like a cyclone, flood or drought, can throw a spanner in the wheel. In such situations, the skills and vocations imparted to the grown girl, in an area that is not necessarily farm-dependent, while based on market-demand, would help keep the family’s economics above water. Of course, this assumes that even the businesses or service-providers who demand those skills are also incentivised, to set up shop closer to those geographies. In this context, the concept of “Second-cities” is anyway in the works, in many developing countries, where most of the economic growth and opportunities have been skewed towards a few large cities. The second-city concept would push development around the other smaller cities, thus spreading the economic opportunities across the land.
A focus on life-skills, rather than just job-specific skills, would go a long way in maintaining the social capital in the villages through incidences of stress and shocks. A lot of research shows that women, on average, make better managers than men, as they are better able to multi-task, think before acting and are temperamentally calmer. Being equipped with a broader range of life-skills, as part of their formal education would enable the girls to handle the incidences of shocks, climate-induced or otherwise, in their households. That might just help make otherwise-patriarchal societies view girls as indispensable members of their households, and communities; a recognition often denied to many.
Last but not least, include learning about inspirational and change-making women as part of the curriculum in girls’ education. Just like visual-based learning is often deemed more impactful than basic rote-based learning, similarly, studying the people who inspire and motivate can go a long way to incentivise girls to remain in school. And if those change-makers are girls like Greta Thunberg, who talk about climate change itself, then so much the better!