Want to Build a More Climate-Just and Gender-Equitable World? Focus on Youth!
Morgan Mercer, Director of Gender and Youth at ACDI/VOCA, and Caroline Bailey, Associate Director of Gender and Youth at ACDI/VOCA, explain why youth-led approaches are important to addressing climate change and provide examples of activities supporting gender-equitable, youth-led approaches in agricultural programming.
USAID’s climate strategy makes it clear that this decade will be decisive for the future of our planet, and that inaction puts our hard-won development gains at risk. With renewed energy and momentum, this is an opportunity to not only address climate change but also to envision and build a world that is more climate-just and gender-equitable. So, how do we do this? We put young people who are inheriting these complex challenges in charge.
Why Youth-Led Solutions?
Women, young people and other vulnerable groups experience the effects of climate change differently and unequally. Climate change disproportionately impacts these groups and it has the potential to further compound already existing gender, age and social inequalities. According to research on low- and middle-income countries, girls’ roles in environment-dependent household chores (e.g., water and fuel collection) and agricultural livelihoods, make their schooling more likely to be interrupted during weather-related crises and environmental shocks compared to male youth. Additionally, girls also are at a heightened risk of early and forced child marriage as their families attempt to ease resource scarcity caused by climate-related shocks. In general, young people are increasingly experiencing climate anxiety and frustrated with government inaction on climate. A recent global survey reports that 83 percent of young people report feeling their government has failed to care for the planet. While adolescence and the transition to adulthood is a period of marked vulnerability, further intensified by climate vulnerability, it is also a period of opportunity. If equipped with the right tools and resources, youth have the potential to lead on climate change solutions while also securing their rights, self-determining their futures, and transforming the unequal power relations that lead to climate injustice.
How can we support gender-equitable, youth-led approaches for climate justice in agricultural programming?
In Jamaica, ACDI/VOCA engaged more than 5,000 young people (52 percent female) across 110 agricultural communities as climate change action agents. Through the USAID Jamaica Rural Economy and Ecosystems Adapting to Climate Change (JaREEACH) I and II projects, the program equipped youth with the skills and opportunities to influence climate change agenda setting for the future and to develop opportunities for engagement in climate resilient agriculture. How? They had young people co-design a Climate Change Action training that was delivered through schools, after school programs, and climate camps. The training delivery reached a diverse group of young people developing networks of informed, skilled and dedicated climate change agents who could provide immediate and ongoing climate change leadership. The training also had field research, community consultation and engagement, and action plan implementation components as well as soft skills development. These components, as well as youth input into the design, resulted in training that had practical application to real world work and led to marketable skills post-completion. This approach also expanded young people’s awareness of gender inequalities in climate smart agriculture, built the capacity of the Government of Jamaica’s institutions to better consider the needs of women and male and female youth in their outreach and activities, and expanded economic opportunities in climate-smart agriculture that considered barriers for youth, especially female youth (e.g., apiculture as a profitable opportunity for landless female youth).
These efforts were combined with youth climate change conferences that brought thousands of young people (63 percent female youth) together from across the Caribbean and internationally where they could propose solutions to climate change. The conferences were planned by and for young people, with mentorship support provided by JaREEACH, through a youth planning committee comprised of both male and female youth. These conferences included opportunities for young people to participate in dialog and policy statement drafting, to research and lead positions in climate debates, to compete in recycling fashion shows, and to gain skills in climate advocacy, leadership and soft skills.
The youth climate change conferences were successful on several levels. Young people had an opportunity to network with like-minded youth across parishes, countries and regions. The conferences also allowed them to connect with decision-makers in the government, people in the private sector, and other important stakeholders in climate change action. The setting also proved to be a collaborative and peer network-building opportunity. Young people co-created future platforms for continued engagement in climate work. This included a youth climate change action network that spanned the Caribbean. Some participants went on to influence climate agenda setting at the national and even international stages, with many more crafting local opportunities for climate change action (e.g., initiating climate-focused agribusinesses). One youth delegate explained their experience as:
“The UN event was a mind-blowing experience. I was presenting on a world stage representing my country. The conference helped me to figure out what I like to do — speak about issues, negotiate, and dialogue…Because of that Germany experience, I got to speak with heads of the climate change division in Jamaica and am submitting a proposal through that channel.” — 2017 Jamaica YCCC delegate
Through a similar model in Liberia, the USAID Forest Incomes for Environmental Sustainability Activity (FIFES) built opportunities in biodiversity conservation for young people, especially young women, as future stewards of community forests. ACDI/VOCA helped establish Community Forestry Management Bodies (CFMBs) to strengthen local forest governance mechanisms and develop forest-based enterprises. While these CFMBs were effective at combatting deforestation and biodiversity loss, they were largely dominated by adult men, despite the role women and female youth play in managing forests that support their lives, livelihoods and households. Recognizing the effect these gender gaps in CFMBs have on exacerbating inequalities and limiting capabilities and sustainability of community forestry efforts, CFMBs worked with young people to develop a Biodiversity and Conservation Change Agent (BCCA) initiative.
The initiative established memorandums of understanding with CFMB hubs and local schools that created BCCA clubs through which a BCCA curriculum was rolled out. These clubs were a vehicle for young people (66 percent female youth, 33 percent male youth) to build skills in biodiversity, climate change, and conservation as well as soft skills through a range of participatory activities and practical, “real world” exercises. One of the important pieces of the BCCA initiative was the visibility and influence these clubs afforded to youth, especially female youth, among community and CFMB members. Young people were now seen as credible sources of biodiversity conservation information. They were also able to leverage new networks and opportunities in community forestry, such as economic opportunities in non-timber forest products, generated through their connections with CFMBs and community members.
Tackling climate change and building a more climate-just world requires cross-sectoral support. Increasingly, many more sectors are embracing youth-led and gender-equitable approaches to climate action, which increasingly include a focus on indigenous groups; when leveraged together these approaches have the capability to create meaningful change. In this spirit, we want to hear from you! What are you doing to build a more gender-equitable and climate-just world?