By: Princess Avianne Charles
Youth groups have always played a pivotal role in the climate and gender justice movements. By bridging the gaps between past actions to current events, they carry the goal of creating a more equitable and sustainable future. It remains paramount that youths are key stakeholders in the decisions and discussions for gender and climate justice, displaying how they too are significantly impacted by climate change.
There are many interpretations on what the age range for youth should represent but for statistical reasons, the United Nations states the age group to be between ages 15 to 24. Due to this classification, there are age-factored dynamics that impact access to financial resources and access to care and personal necessities.
Climate change has presented the many challenges of adaptation and risk-reduction for vulnerable communities. It has proven to have a multiplier effect for socio-economic, educational, health, and political barriers, including those that are gender-based. When a climate disaster occurs with the potential to cause significant harm, this magnifies the ways that marginalized groups are already disenfranchised and at risk — ranging from various forms of violence, reduced access to resources, and inaccessibility to safe shelters and spaces. The effects of climate change with the intersection of gender have led to increased susceptibility of girls and women, and their access to adequate care amid a climate crisis.
The effects of climate change on youth can be seen globally. The Caribbean, is no exception. Eeshwari Lall, aged 17 from Guyana and a Dear Future Woman Ambassador of The Breadfruit Collective, shared that Guyanese youths are affected by climate change in myriad ways, impacting their physical, mental, and emotional health. Lall shared an example of the effects of the rising heat temperatures. She said,
“Oftentimes students feel extremely hot in classrooms which leads to them fidgeting and being uncomfortable and they tend to lose focus in classes.”
During periods of rain, on the other hand, she shared that some students are unable to attend school because of the increasing amount of rainfall caused by climate change. She added that excessive rainfall leads to flooding of the area they live in and also the school they attend, resulting in the loss of schooling.
When gender inequalities and climate change intersect, this creates hazardous conditions for girls and women, leading to increased rates of conflict-related sexual violence, human trafficking, period poverty, unemployment, and inaccessibility to educational and health services. This reality has led to youth groups becoming more involved in climate advocacy. Youth involvement in climate justice has shown that youth are aware of what's happening, how they're impacted by it, and what they believe is necessary to evoke change.
The involvement of youth in the climate sphere is expansive, ranging from the creation of youth climate advocacy groups, representation at regional and international forums, and development of mentorship programs. This is spread throughout the Caribbean, where organizations and groups such as The Breadfruit Collective, Girls Care, Climate Network Guyana, Global Youth Climate Network, Caribbean Feminist, and Island Innovations utilize their platforms for climate activism and youth engagement. This involvement further accelerates the goals of youth at the forefront of climate and gender justice. Ana-Maria Lee, Content Writer for Caribbean Feminist echoes these sentiments,
“Encouraging youths to express their wants and aspirations for adapting to the effects of climate change in their areas and country is another way to ensure that youth involvement is significant. Moreover, involving young people in local and national decision-making processes, particularly when it comes to measures that shift societal norms and values into consideration.”
If youth aren't provided with the opportunities to speak up and get involved, how can they be encouraged to address the challenges they face?
Age-related gaps must be closed to provide youth with an equal footing in addressing the climate crisis. In finding ways to bridge such gaps Ana-Marie added,
“Youth groups could be encouraged to engage in actions for climate and gender justice by involving youths at all levels through more youth representation in community committees, establishing and fortifying partnerships between governments and youth groups with the help of internships, programs and mentorship with trained specialists.”
Encouraging youth groups to be more involved in advocating for climate and gender justice is crucial. When they're involved and empowered to meaningfully engage in advocacy, they tap into the ways that they can drive change at individual, community, and systemic levels. Opening the floor for their representation, however, can't be done by themselves. Inclusion in policies and governmental efforts further solidifies the value of their efforts. It requires integrating youth in the decisions and global forums, with great emphasis on the gendered inequalities that persist.
Some recommendations for this include participating in creating or updating one's country’s climate actions and joining groups that help to design climate policies and strategies. Youth engagement can take many shapes and forms, including their hobbies and interests for increased activism. Morgan Edwards, an Assistant Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a leader of the university's Climate Action Lab told ABC News, “The best way to take climate action is to think about the thing that you already love to do," Edwards said. "So if you're an artist, you can make art about the climate crisis. If you're a writer, you can tell stories.”
There's no single way to get youth involved. Ana-Marie Lee shared that youth groups can write letters, host forums, and hold meetings with their community and government representatives to discuss climate change and gender in schools nationwide. For the role of governing bodies and authorities, she added,
“Governmental representatives and community leaders could host monthly or yearly programs to train personnel in climate change and gender affairs in primary, secondary, and tertiary institutions and community centers.”
While there is great consideration on how youth can get involved, they must be met with the opportunities and forums to do so. This involves creating spaces, forums, and activities where youth can learn and share their valuable perspectives and be involved in the decision-making processes. Dominique Williams, a Kittitian Youth climate activist and Founder of Hibiscus Tea, echoes these sentiments,
“One of the places we are most barred from is decision making. As young people, often students or young professionals, we don’t have the same access that seasoned older leaders have. A balance needs to be struck between maintaining elder experience and inviting young people’s ideas and concerns into decision making.”
These actions are impactful and lead to more inclusive perspectives and approaches to mitigating hazardous climate events that also impact youth. They help to reduce inhibitors to youth engagement, such as limited opportunities in the decision-making processes. A report by the Global Center On Adaptation stated, “In decision-making processes, however, youth often find themselves on the fringes and in need of better access to meaningful and active policy engagement. Institutions need to be particularly inclusive of youth from vulnerable groups, who are already bearing the brunt of climate change.”
Gender and climate continue to impact youth and their access to safe spaces, education, healthcare, and much more. Facing the burden and challenges of the climate crisis can be demotivating. There is hesitancy for some youth groups to get involved due to the assumption that their voice isn't as significant nor impactful as older groups. In efforts to amplify inclusive spaces and activities for youth, suggestions have been made to include youth involvement via student platforms. On the topic of student involvement in climate advocacy, Williams recommended that activism be brought closer to students in the form of school groups and education in the classroom to lower the barrier of entry for all young people.
Youth perspectives, actions, and collaboration are some of the most important aspects that can result in safer and more equitable systems in the future. They must not only be involved but also prioritized in the strategies, planning, and decisions for climate and gender justice. The first step towards that is to prioritize and center youth in the discussions. Shared by Silvia Rachelle Gaspard, President of Girl Up Caribbeans residing in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, the steps that can be taken to prioritize youth include providing spaces for inclusion, representation, education, awareness, and support for youth-led organizations.
“I believe we should provide educational resources and workshops on the intersections of climate and gender issues to help youth understand the importance of these topics and how they are interconnected, offer mentorship programs and access to experienced leaders in the field who can provide guidance and support for youth-led initiatives. Additionally, we need to provide financial support, grants, and access to resources such as training, technology, and networking opportunities to enable youth groups to implement their ideas and projects.”
The involvement of youth in climate action further accelerates resilience and sustainable goals globally. All efforts must be made to bridge the gaps and remove the inhibitors that restrict their involvement, As it relates to climate and gender, the harmful impacts on vulnerable groups such as girls and women are a clear indicator that the disparities that persist can worsen amid a climate disaster. Providing opportunities for youth to be engaged and involved in the actions for adaptation and mitigation is imperative. As we work towards creating a more sustainable and safer future, ensuring youths are at the forefront is key to success.