Educate a Girl, Sustain the World

In 2015 the UN Sustainable Development Summit created a new sustainable development agenda for the planet. The agenda presents “17 Goals to Transform the World” and two of them are critically linked to girls, women and education. Goal 5 aims to “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls” in the next 15 years. A focus on girls’ education is also supported by Goal 4 to “ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning” driven by the fact that “obtaining a quality education is the foundation to improving people’s lives and sustainable development.”

The presence of these goals in a sustainable development agenda points to the fact that supporting female equality plays an important role in the environmental field. Recent globally focused work has stressed the deep interconnections and linkages between gender equality and sustainable development. The report Global Gender and Environmental Outlook: The Critical Issues by UNEP explains “it is demonstrably the case that environmental degradation is associated with gender inequalities and…reducing the gender gap can enable progress towards more sustainable development.” One means of reducing this gender gap is providing education for girls and women. When girls have increased participation in school, wide benefits to individuals and societies result. Increasing a girl’s level of education increases the chance that she will marry later, have lower lifetime fertility, have lower infant mortality rates, and also correlates to an increase in wages later in life.

The importance of addressing female inequalities through education is particularly important in mountainous regions around the world. “Mountain women’s conditions are made worse by the fragile, harsh environment, and the fact that they belong to already marginalized communities” explains the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development. Remote and rugged terrain can often make education inaccessible for mountain peoples, and women are more impacted by these geographic challenges due to pre-existing inequalities. “Experiences have shown that gender inequalities obstruct the achievement of sustainable mountain development,” points out ICIMOD. When women are educated, though, it can lead to more equitable use of natural resources, improved water and waste management, and improved conservation practices. Thus, alleviating barriers to girls’ education in rural mountain regions is an important step in fostering gender equality and women’s empowerment which, in turn, influences and supports community-level sustainable mountain development and stewardship of the natural environment.

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