It seems an unlikely coupling, girls’ education and climate change solutions, but the Drawdown project showed that educating girls is one of the most powerful levers available for avoiding damaging climate emissions. There are many, many, reasons for this, so I’d like to share a my family story about how three generations of girls’ education had transformational effects for us, our families and communities – and why educating girls and empowering women is the No.1 solution to climate change.
My grandma Sito, was illiterate most of her life, as poor girls didn’t go to school in India in the 1930s. She was betrothed at 11 and married by the age of 14, and would go on to have eight children. Migrating to England, she couldn’t read or write her mother tongue of Punjabi or English.
She only learned to read and write at 60 years old, when she took herself off to night school to learn to read because — as a born-again Christian — she wanted to read the bible. Sito’s education empowered her, and at 65 she built a church in her village Khotran in North India. She founded a place where Indian Christians and all sectors of the community could come together, regardless of age, sex, faith, sexual orientation or colour. The church recently celebrated its 15th anniversary, employs five people, and welcomes a congregation of more than 100 people from other villages every week. Masihi Khotran Church is beacon of peace and community.
My mother Surrinder worked as a seamstress in the UK in 1970s. She did get to go to school, and as a young lady hoped to go to college and learn to design. She knew that if she did, she could earn more money to support her family. She was refused the chance to go to night college because women didn’t go out at night, she would be getting married soon, and she would get a husband who would be ‘educated for her’.
After divorcing some years later, she decided to put herself through night college, get her design qualifications, form two fashion businesses and employed 15 other women. These women were her neighbours, her family, her friends, and their friends. Her education had a ripple effect.
She reinvested her new-found success and wealth in her family and the community and it benefited everyone.
Me, Asha. I’m privileged. I have a string of qualifications and degrees. If I want to learn, I can – there are no barriers. After all, I have access to money, a computer at my fingertips and no one telling me ‘No’. My mother broke the cycle of poverty we might otherwise have been trapped in and it was drummed into me from an early age that getting an education was one of the most important things I must do in life.
Listening to the keynote speech by Paul Hawken at the Purpose Conference in February 2018, he presented the most comprehensive plan to address climate change, DRAWDOWN.
“We’ve done the Math” he said, “and the results surprised us. Empowering women and girls holds the key to unlocking climate solutions”.
I work in sustainability, and for years I have helped to engage businesses and communities to take action on climate change. Yet all along the most powerful solution was staring me in the face. It had played out in my family history, and subsequently in the amazing start I was given in life.
DRAWDOWN has proven that a combination of educating girls and family planning, which together could reduce 120 gigatons of CO2-equivalent by 2050, is the Number 1 solution to curbing climate emissions. Where one ends the other takes off, so it is almost impossible to split the two solutions.
The solution isn’t a solar panel, it’s educating women and girls so they become empowered to choose what happens with their own bodies and their own futures. The other solutions are all still very much needed and important to change our unsustainable trajectory, we need all of them, and we need them now.
So why can this unlock such potential? These simple facts from the One Girl website show us how:
After three generations, things changed exponentially for my family, but they still haven’t changed for 130 million girls around the world that are not able to go to or stay in school.
I hold onto the hope that another generation of girls won’t miss out on education.
130 million girls in school = 130 million solutions to climate change.
I call this ‘Hopeful Maths’.