How women’s empowerment and climate action go hand in hand

Climate charity Project Drawdown has highlighted the inextricable link between feminist and environmental causes

Social justice campaigners often talk about the importance of intersectionality. Yet, too often it’s difficult for them to find either the energy or the rationale to link their causes to others’.

Today, fresh research offers the potential to make this process much easier. Climate charity Project Drawdown has highlighted the inextricable link between feminist and environmental causes with its ground-breaking analysis. This analysis clearly spells out the societal and environmental returns we can enjoy if we invest in women.

Here, we outline three of Project Drawdown’s top priority causes which could offer ways for environmentalists and feminist campaigners to unite. And to make things interesting, we’ve name-checked similar projects we’re involved with at The Social Change Agency.

N.B. This is a non-exhaustive list – it is simply three policies Project Drawdown says will stabilise the climate and help women. It certainly doesn’t cover every way these two broad causes overlap, compliment each other, and create opportunities for coalitions.

1. Education girls

Not only do educated girls live more vibrant lives and enjoy upward social mobility. From a climate perspective, getting more girls in education could be more transformative than solar farms or off-shore wind power. Project Drawdown ranks girls’ education as the 6th most powerful way to draw down CO2. Solar farms rank 8th. It could remove and prevent as much as 51.4 gigatons of carbon reaching the atmosphere by 2050.

Statistically, women who have received more education go on to have fewer and healthier children. Further combined societal and environmental benefits include higher earnings later in life, reduced maternal and infant mortality, reduced likelihood of child marriage and forced marriage and lower incidence of HIV/AIDS and malaria.

Increasing education sounds like a no-brainer. But there are lots of barriers which prevent girls’ getting access. We need to reduce the cost of schooling for girls and their parents across the world as well as the distance they need to travel. There also remain significant health and cultural barriers to girls accessing education (too manifold and complex to get into here!)

Here at The Social Change Agency, we’ve been working with Street Child on their Count Me In fundraising appeal as part of the Department for International Development’s (DFID) UK Aid Match programme. Street Child work in places like northern Sierra Leone to give vulnerable children greater access to basic education.

2. Family planning

Securing women’s rights to voluntary, high-quality family planning is a sure-fire way to improve the health, well being and life expectancy of women and their children. And it could help stabilise the climate too.

Project Drawdown says universal access to voluntary reproductive healthcare could change the world. Crucially – this must be voluntary and based on women’s expressed needs as individuals. It can’t come from rich societies abroad or oppressive governments at home.

This is so important it’s the 7th most effective way to combat climate change. Standing well before electric vehicles or house insulation. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says population growth is a key factor in growing emissions and lists reproductive health services in its list of climate-friendly policies. But this not only reduces future emissions, of course. The IPCC cites evidence that communities with access to family planning are more able to adapt to a warmer climate.

We’ve got a way to go. Today, 225 million women say they lack the ability to choose whether and when they become pregnant through contraception and there is a $5.3 billion funding shortfall to reach this goal.

Here at the Social Change Agency, we’re delighted to be working with on its Team Mum campaign, which is bringing vital maternal health services to women in Kenya in partnership with the UK government.

3. Supporting women smallholders and farmers

Education and family planning aren’t the only two ways we can align goals to both empower women and fix the climate.

It’s also crucial that we support women in the world’s 475 million smallholder families. Women receive fewer land rights, poorer credit, less support and fewer tools and seeds meaning a negative cycle takes hold in which more people go hungry and crop yields are poorer. As a result, more land is deforested, increasing emissions and harming natural ecosystems.

Breaking this vicious cycle requires improving women’s rights and their access to finance, tools and know-how. The rewards would be two-fold. Research shows 100-150 million people would no longer be hungry by 2050, thanks to a 30% jump in agricultural output. And the pressure to fell the world’s forests would reduce, keeping 2 gigatons of carbon locked in for generations to come.

Farm Africa is just one charity working on this exact problem, giving female farmers access to the tools and support they need to make a more sustainable living. As part of our work with DFID’s UK Aid Match programme, we’re playing a small part in helping them raise money and awareness to deliver this. Find out more at

Sign up to our newsletter for more insights and news from the world of social change

Free resources

Movement Building Canvas

The Movement Building Canvas is a practical framework and printable worksheet to help you or your organisation design and build a social movement.

See more resources