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Adolescent Girls in the Climate Crisis: Empowering young women through feminist participatory action research in Zambia and Zimbabwe

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1.1 Background

The Southern Africa region, comprising Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique,
Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe, is at the front line of some the most extreme impacts of climate change, facing both slow and rapid onset extreme weather events, and placing many areas in a state of protracted crisis. Since the start of the 2018/2019 cropping season in October the region has been severely affected by anomalous dry conditions, leading to precarious food security in the region (Reliefweb 2020). The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have also added to health and livelihood stresses in the region.

Climate change impacts the rights of the most marginalised children and young people severely and magnifies gender inequalities for women and girls. Children and young people living in poverty, in fragile and conflict-affected states, with oppressive social norms and under-resourced education systems are often the most marginalised and the hardest hit by climate change (Anderson 2010; OECD 2020). Protracted crises affect adolescent girls in ways that are different to women and children, the larger groups to which they are often assigned. Young women and girls experience insecurity and uncertainty as a result of climate change in ways that are unique to their particular age, gender, and status in their community and family, as well as any additional intersecting identities and lived experiences. In particular, girls are at risk of being pulled out of school to help with the extra domestic tasks and to lessen the financial burden households face due to climaterelated shocks and stress (Plan International 2017).

Education is crucial in building knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviours needed for tackling the impacts of climate change, for engaging in and developing climate policies, for supporting the green economy and for encouraging individual environmental responsibility.
Plan International believes upholding the rights of young women and adolescent girls, including the right to quality education before, during and after extreme weather and climate events, must therefore be a priority. Bringing girls on board and ensuring climateadaptation initiatives are girl-led will improve their adaptative capacities and promote their participation in decision-making. Targeted climate education has the power to play a pivotal role to promote girls’ ability to adapt to climate risks and to engage in climate policies and processes.

1.2 Aims

The overall objective of the research was to empower young women to investigate and act on the impact of climate change on young women and girl’s lives in Zambia and Zimbabwe. The results sought to build an evidence base that furthers understanding, through girls’ views and lived experiences, of how climate change is reshaping their lives and their futures, including as a barrier to quality education. Through this unique perspective, development and humanitarian actors, donors and policy makers will gain a better understanding of the interventions needed to help realise young women and girls’ fundamental right to education, equality and climate justice.

The aims of the research are to:

  1. Build the evidence base on the impacts of climate change on and the role of education to empower and build the adaptative capacities of girls and young women.

  2. Provide young women in Zambia and Zimbabwe with the tools to identify how climate change is impacting their lives and basic rights, including their access to education.

  3. Amplify young people’s voices regarding their needs, solutions and recommendations towards humanitarian and development actors, donors and policy makers that will address the urgent challenges they face because of climate change.

  4. Increase understanding of the link between education and climate change amongst policymakers and practitioners in Ministries of Education and Ministries of Environment, civil society, NGOs, UN agencies and government donors.

1.3 Research locations

This action research was carried out in Southern Africa in regions of Zambia and Zimbabwe, where the impacts of climate variability compound conditions of environmental degradation, poverty, gender inequality and the COVID-19 pandemic. Climate change impacts are already being felt across the region and will amplify existing stress on animals and crops, water quality and availability, human health and the natural environment (Dupar, 2020). In Zambia, historic trends show mean annual temperature has increased by 1.3°C between 1960 and 2003, which is approximately twice the increase in the average global temperature during the same period (see Figure 1). Within the region, countries such as South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Namibia and Angola observed a 0.6 to 1°C annual average temperature increase during a comparable period (Gannon et al. 2014). Zimbabwe has experienced a mean annual temperature increase of roughly 0.01°C/year from 1901 to 2016, with higher warming towards the end of the twentieth century. Overall, precipitation has decreased by approximately 0.6 mm/year from 1901 to 2016 (World Bank CKP). This warming has been greatest during the dry season (MoEWC, 2014).