July 10, 2017 Kathleen Colson, CEO and Founder, The BOMA Project

The Secret to Saving the Planet? Women and Girls.

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“I want my daughter to have possibilities.”

Deraso Lmothi, BOMA business group participant, and her daughter
Hamdo, in Korr, Kenya. Photo: @DavidduChemin

What do contraception, reproductive health, and educating girls and women in developing countries have to do with climate change? According to Drawdown, the compelling latest book from environmentalist, journalist and activist Paul Hawken: plenty. The book is a compendium of research from geologists, engineers, agronomists, researchers, fellows, writers, climatologists, biologists, botanists, economists, financial analysts, architects, companies, agencies, NGOs, activists, and other experts (drawdown.org) who have identified specific, tactical courses of action and behavior changes using existing technologies and resources that we as a global community can undertake immediately to help draw down—reverse—climate change.

Many of the solutions seem self-evident: managing the release of refrigerants like Freon into the atmosphere; increasing our reliance on wind power; driving electric cars; providing clean-burning cook stoves to families in developing countries; re-building coastal wetlands and marshes; mitigating run-off and reducing the impact of industrial agriculture.

But you might be surprised to learn that the #6 solution for reversing global warming is Educating Girls. And #7 is Family Planning. In countries where women’s access to information and options about birth control and maternal choice are limited, the consequences of these two solutions extend far beyond a woman’s immediate environment. There is the savings achieved in maternal healthcare: $1 spent on contraception saves $2.30 in expenses related to unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases, and maternal mortality. There is the increase in productivity from mothers who are not continuously confined by child birth and child care. There are the benefits to children who receive more of their mother’s attention and resources, resulting in improved cognitive function. And there is the decrease in the carbon footprint, which is significantly impacted by a growing population.

As the Gates Foundation also notes, family planning and access to contraception is essential to global health and development. It’s not just about empowering women, it’s about generating   long-term benefits to families, communities and countries.

At The BOMA Project, we implement a gender-focused poverty graduation program in East Africa that operates at the nexus of four of the UN Sustainable Development Goals: eradicating poverty, ending hunger, achieving gender equality and addressing climate change. The inter-connectedness of these four goals is not always noted.  But the deadly vortex of poverty, little to no education and a limit on reproductive rights in the face of climate pressure,  creates a cycle that feeds upon itself. Seen in this light, by helping women and girls become resilient and self-sufficient, receive an education, and achieve agency over their bodies and their futures, gives women powerful tools in the quest to turn the ravages of climate change.

BOMA’s program helps women start businesses, grow savings accounts, pay school fees and other expenses, and achieve greater autonomy and control in their own lives, including over their reproductive choices. When women can decide when or if to have children, they can invest more into building the resources they need to feed their families and send their children to school. When girls have access to education, they learn about their choices regarding reproductive options, healthcare and contraception, resulting in children being born into resilient, healthy families, with smaller carbon footprints. Investing in programs that promote and support women’s and girls’ education, reproductive health and agency  is not just good for them individually, it’s good for the whole planet.

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