By Lauren Lancaster
March 15, 2019 ‒ Around the world, young people are mobilising to fight inaction on the most pressing issue of our time: global warming. As the generation facing the full impacts of climate change, we're urging decisive, radical change. In cities from Sydney to Sweden, school students are going on strike, and girls are leading the charge – the School Strikes for Climate movement was started by 16-year-old Swedish student Greta Thunberg, outside the Swedish Parliament.
I attended the rally in Sydney last November, and will be there again today. What struck me was not just how motivating it was to see young people out in force – protesting for our future – but also to see how many of the rally organisers were young women, from schools around the state.
But why should girls more widely be especially concerned? Because girls and young women face disproportionate impacts from climate change. Yes, that's right – climate change is sexist. The gendered aspect to climate change is complex and pressing. Leading girls' rights agency Plan International's work with research bodies around the world such as Stockholm Environment Institute in Thailand has revealed that as the impacts of global warming worsen, women and girls are at higher risk of physical, psychological and social harm.
Climate change magnifies global inequality to a terrifying degree – as weather events and natural disasters worsen in strength and duration, so too do famines, droughts, forced migration, climate-fuelled conflict and disease epidemics. In turn, all of these events disproportionately affect girls and young women.
Girls and young women in developing countries are the first to suffer from lack of food and water, as they are 'often the last in the family to eat and the first to go hungry when food is in short supply,' according to a 2018 report from Plan International and SEI.
When families face economic hardship from drought or disaster, girls are at greater risk of being pulled out of school to help the household and save money. Their burden of chores becomes greater and more dangerous when they have to journey further for clean water.
Girls displaced by disaster or conflict face particular risks when migrating or living in refugee camps. They may be exposed to violence from their own families, from other people living in the camps, soldiers, or criminal networks of traffickers and gangs.
Child marriage also rises in times of crisis, with families sometimes using it as a way to ease economic hardship or to protect girls from violence and abuse.
It is clear that climate change is an intergenerational equity issue. Lack of action now will have serious implications on the rights of future generations of children, particularly girls.
Nations must include girls in decision-making and policy processes around climate change. For too long, we have been left out of these discussions – our voices ignored, despite the fact that we stand to lose among the most.
I know how it feels to be ignored. I've called local MPs, only to be hung up on when I told them my age. Emails that I've taken time to carefully write, urging Coalition and Labor politicians to publicly denounce the Adani coal mine in Queensland, are met with platitudinous auto-generated responses. Media have since reported that neither major party will leave coal behind for the next election.
Climate change is the single most pressing global challenge that affects us all. It's already wreaking havoc on the health, safety and future of girls around the world. We can lessen the impacts but we need to act now, before it's too late.
Young people will not be silenced. We will not listen to those who tell us we should stay in school. We will keep striking, advocating and making noise to put pressure on our governments to act. Our voices matter.
By calling our MPs, going to school strikes, joining youth climate and social justice organisations and educating ourselves, we are showing politicians that we will not stop until radical policy change is achieved.
We are the future – we cannot sit back and watch as our own future slips away in front of our eyes.
Lauren Lancaster is a youth activist with Plan International Australia.
Reprinted from New Matilda, 15 March 2019, www.newmatilda.com
Published in Chain Reaction #135, April 2019. National magazine of Friends of the Earth Australia. www.foe.org.au/chain_reaction
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