Positive People – Malala Yousafzai

Malala Yousafzai is a girls education advocate, author, Nobel Peace prize winner, a UN messenger of peace and the global face of bravery, resilience, and compassion. Now, with COP26 here and the climate crisis intensifying, Malala is speaking out about the power of girls’ education in the fight against climate change.

Malala Yousafzai is holding world leaders to account at COP26 and striving to make the world see the correlation between climate change, gender equality, and education. Malala wants it to be known that the girls who are the most affected by climate change also have the most to give to the fight against it.

The most effected, the most valuable

Studies show that girls are significantly more affected by the effects of climate change disasters in low-income countries. According to the Malala Fund, at least 4 million girls won’t complete their education due to climate-related crises this year and if current trends continue, 12.5 million girls will be prevented from going to school each year. 

When families in low-income countries are affected by climate change disasters such as floods and droughts, they are also hit with a greater financial burden. Girls in the family are the first to leave school to take over household responsibilities like fetching firewood and water, and some are even forced to get married to lessen the financial burden on their families. 

We must prioritise people and our planet over growth. When we prioritise people on our planet, growth will follow.

Malala Yousafzai

These girls who are the most affected by the effects of climate change disasters however, can also be a valuable asset in the climate change fight. Research has shown that for every additional year that girls stay in school this leads to significant improvements in a country’s resilience to climate-related disasters. 
Speaking on a panel on ‘Building a Greener, Fairer Future: The Role of Girls’ Education in Climate Action’ for Chatnam House earlier this year, Malala explained, “girls are the victims, girls are affected by these climate change disasters but also when we educate girls, when we provide them with quality education with climate education they can become farmers, conservationists, solar technicians, and they can fill other green jobs as well.”

Research has also shown that women’s political participation and leadership leads to more pro-environmental policies and higher levels of environmental well-being. Education also encourages students to embrace justice-based solutions to climate change. 

Malala also sees the value of general skills learned in school, such as literacy, numeracy, critical thinking, and problem-solving as necessary to making sustainable choices around natural resource management and gives them the ability to act on weather reports. 

The Malala Fund and recommendations for leaders at COP26

The Malala Fund, created by Malala and her father in 2013, works to ensure girls around the world have access to 12 years of free, safe, quality education. The fund operates by building networks with local educators rather than building schools, as they believe the greatest insight, innovation and energy to address barriers that keep girls out of school lies within members of their own community. 

The Malala Fund receives nominations from a wide network of organisations and individuals and through a rigorous analysis process, chooses educators and areas that will have a high impact on girls’ education. The fund prioritises their assistance to its Gulmakai Network, where most girls miss out on secondary education which includes Afghanistan, Brazil, India, Lebanon, Nigeria, Pakistan and Turkey.

…girls and women however, facing the hardest effects of climate change in countries around the world, the decisions our leaders make today will determine the future they have…

Malala Yousafzai- Speaking on COP26

Since its launch, The Malala Fund has invested £22 million into their eight countries and 62 education champions that head up their initiatives in their local areas. In 2015, Malala opened a school for Syrian refugee girls in Lebanon with expenses covered by the Malala Fund. 

COP26 is a crucial opportunity for leaders of the world to come together with other organisations to strive for better girls education and climate change education. Malala Yousafzai and the Malala Fund are not letting the opportunity for change to pass them by at this critical conference.

The Malala Fund released a guide in September, enclosing recommendations for leaders attending COP26 on how to take steps towards more climate change education and how to support girls’ education. They call on COP26 leaders to prioritize education, ensure all outcomes are gender-responsive, and enable girls and women to meaningfully participate in decisions around climate change.

Back in March, Malala summed up her hopes for COP26 and the leaders who will be participating. “I hope that the UK will use this opportunity and this platform to show other colleagues who will be part of COP to prioritise girls education and to recognise how girls education, gender equality and climate change are not separate issues. They work together and girls’ education and gender equality can be used as a solution against climate change.”

Malala Yousafzai has shown her resilience and passion for girls’ education, and now she is showing the world that these girls who are most affected by climate change disasters can also be part of the solution to the climate crisis. She is showing that the power of education and gender equality, when prioritised, can be the catalyst for global change and sustainable movements.

Main photo Credit: Southbank Centre

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