By Elsa Barron and Brigitte Hugh
Girl Security is an organization that seeks to address the challenge of the under-representation of women in the national security field, highlighted by the fact that, “women make up less than 40 percent of the U.S. State Department’s leadership and 26 percent at the Pentagon.” The group’s National Security Fellowship program offers young women interested in national and global security challenges the opportunity to learn about some of the most pressing issues of today and develop a strong community with similar interests. As a capstone to the program, the fellows released a National Girl Security Strategy in January, which is led by a chapter on “Advancing a More Inclusive Approach to Climate Security.”
The Girl Security Fellows who authored this chapter – Alyssa Eamranond, Ilinca Drondoe, Jasmine De Leon, Kelly Huang, Nicole Chowdhury, and Prachi Gyanmote – sat down with the Center for Climate and Security to share their perspectives on climate and security, including why they felt this chapter was so critical to include in the Strategy. As one fellow explained, “If we don’t save our planet there won’t be anything else to save, which is why we put climate policy at the forefront.”
In addition to intersections between climate and security, the fellows also drew connections to gender and race, noting the importance of bringing women and people of color into the conversation. They explained that women have a unique sense of security since, in many cases, their responsibility to defend themselves and their families from danger differs from men’s. As climate change exacerbates threats to health and well-being, women are often the first to respond.
The following are collaborative responses written by the six Girl Security Fellows we spoke with, which have been lightly edited for clarity.
CCS: How do climate change and insecurity affect women and girls uniquely?
Girl Security Fellows: As a threat multiplier, climate change and insecurity exacerbate pre-existing inequalities that women and girls face around the world. There is an even deeper impact on women and girls in low-income households who are unable to access resources to offset the effects of climate change. As an example, one of the greatest challenges women and girls face is access to education as they shoulder the burden of environmental degradation. The Malala Fund reported that “in 2021, climate-related events [prevented] at least four million girls in low- and lower-middle-income countries from completing their education.” This is especially important as women and girls have historically been expected to sacrifice their education to take care of their families. As a result, climate change acts as a “threat multiplier” by restricting access to education for young women and children and forcing them into the roles of providers. Without the safety of spaces such as school, as well as increased exposure to unsafe journeys to gather resources that become increasingly scarce, they may become more susceptible to cases of sexual and domestic violence.
CCS: Throughout your report, you emphasize the importance of racial and gender justice for the future of climate and security. What steps can the U.S. government take to integrate marginalized communities into their climate security approaches?
Girl Security Fellows: Throughout our strategy, we emphasize the importance of ensuring that policies related to climate and security meet set standards for diversity and equity. For example, we suggest that policymaking processes include at least 50 percent women, at least half of whom are women of color (including Indigenous women), to reflect population demographics in the United States and advance more inclusive, innovative solutions. The U.S. government should also recognize that climate change is not just an existential threat but a particularly gendered problem. Policies should include or provide for a gender analysis of their implications on women and girls domestically and internationally, and the way their implementation must consider this.
Another step that the U.S. government can take is educating marginalized communities and women on climate change—from how it impacts them to the various career paths pertaining to climate action (e.g. climate security, renewable energy, environmental justice advocacy, environmental law). This will help those from marginalized communities become further equipped to lend their voices in creating more effective climate policy. It is crucial that we are guided by the perspectives of those at the forefront of the climate crisis.
CCS: You recommend creating a climate change curriculum for public schools. What kinds of knowledge and skills should be included in that curriculum in order to develop future generations of climate security leaders?
Girl Security Fellows: Educating and enriching the next generation is essential to a successful climate change plan. Through a standardized curriculum on climate change, our goal should be to equip students with knowledge about what climate security is and ways they can take action to mitigate climate risks. Training institutions should be formed to build educators’ foundations on the core values and needs of climate security. The main curriculum goals will be two-fold. For the short term, the curriculum will highlight how students can be active in not just their individual communities, but on a global scale to grow a resource-efficient society. The educators can take a hands-on approach, allowing students to spur activism and shape future policies working with peers in a collaborative environment. For the long term, students will be given detailed information on fields and careers they can pursue to continue championing the importance of climate security and one day bring their ideas to the table at the governmental level.
Looking ahead, the Girl Security Fellows have diverse interests and hopes for their future including careers in government, STEM, and journalism. The interdisciplinary field of climate security has much to learn from these and other young voices that bring fresh perspectives to the challenge of climate change, an issue that affects nearly every facet of national security and the world that is passed on to the next generation.