Why gender and education are critical levers for Bhutan’s climate goals

Bhutan is highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change that are affecting many sectors including education. With women and girls facing higher risks, the country is working to reinforce the inter-sectoral collaboration between the 3 areas of climate, gender and education.

January 23, 2024 by Thinley Choden, Centre for Sustainability Studies
4 minutes read
Children looking out on terraced fields. Bhutan. Credit: Curt Carnemark / World Bank
Children looking out on terraced fields. Bhutan.
Credit: Curt Carnemark / World Bank

Climate change is an urgent existential threat, challenge and opportunity for the human race. At present, we have a global consensus but a lot of work to do.

Bhutan is a country highly vulnerable to the impacts of rising temperatures with threats from glacial lake outburst floods, shifts in weather cycles and changing monsoon patterns that can lead to increased flooding and landslides.

These erratic weather events pose risks to agriculture, infrastructure and water resources, with dire implications for the well-being of Bhutanese farms that largely operate via subsistence farming and have monsoon-dependent growing seasons. Farmers are left to bounce back and adapt to the effects of climate change, with higher risks for women and girls due to gender norms and roles within farming and agricultural practices.

In the face of these challenges, Bhutan has taken on ambitious climate goals through its climate leadership and environment stewardship. It also has a strong track record in gender-focused education milestones with over 90% school enrollment at gender parity and a largely matrilineal society with women’s equal access and ownership of property.

However, efforts within the 3 areas of climate, gender and education still mostly exist in silo, with very little inter-sectoral collaboration.

Bringing climate, gender and education together

I propose gender-transformative climate literacy (GTCL) as a solution path for a green and gender equal future. As a 2023 Echidna scholar with the Center for Universal Education of Brookings Institution, my ongoing research strives to understand and identify a set of structural and policy adjustments for a resilient green future combined with a GTCL-enabling community of practice within Bhutan and globally.

At the nexus of climate, gender and education, GTCL is an interdisciplinary approach that challenges underlying gender inequalities within the context of climate change while endeavoring to reshape societal gender norms and attitudes.

GTCL empowers individuals to actively engage in climate action and decision-making processes while promoting gender equity to achieve this reality: climate and gender are embedded within the learning and skilling of the education system.

My theory of change is that with GTCL interventions and approaches, we can move to a desired state where climate change and gender are embedded in the learning systems of education and skilling for a gender-balanced green workforce, which in turn would be one of the main drivers to sustain Bhutan’s climate ambition of carbon neutrality.

GTCL for a resilient future and green growth

The education system is an untapped space to advance climate action by developing skills for a climate-informed and resilient individual.

Incorporating GTCL within education presents a window of opportunity to explicitly incorporate the importance of gender dynamics and climate literacy. It is ever more timely as National Education policy in Bhutan is currently under review.

During my field research, I spoke and interviewed several stakeholders including girls, educators, the government, youth/women/climate civil society and international development partners.

Based on focus group discussions with girls ages 13 to 18, whom I connected with through school management and civil society organization partners, I developed a framework to contextualize what is needed to develop GTCL in Bhutan:

Summary of focus group discussion insights

What the girls know of climate change Potential learning areas to develop
Good knowledge of environment and climate, learned and picked up from climate change subjects in schools and news Articulating climate awareness from a self and relational perspective, indicating a need to contextualize climate action from an individual perspective
Understand climate impacts such as floods and windstorms Understanding how climate impacts genders differently and its implications and solutions
Aspirations for climate agency and understand how they can play a role Girls lack the space for learning climate literacy skills, indicating a need for creating spaces for climate application and innovations
Cautious and dystopian view of the future with heavy influence of tech and social media. They struggled to see where to begin as climate change lacks the immediacy and tangibility of technology. When encountering distressing news about climate disasters like flash floods, girls felt powerless and insignificant in the face of such a colossal problem, which could indicate climate-related anxiety and stress; hence, in addition to understanding climate change, helping them find their space and place in climate action and what that may be.

Insights from the girls who participated in focus groups highlighted the need for a gender-informed climate knowledge and skills learning system that empowers individuals to adapt and thrive in a climate-impacted world.

In my ongoing research, my main recommendation is GTCL as the solution pathway supported by a few sub-recommendations to achieve it.

Bhutan’s Department of School Education is already a step ahead in this direction with their recently launched competency-based curriculum. The set of gender-transformative literacy strategies proposed here is intended to complement the curriculum.

In my several years of working with young people, it’s clear that they have so much curiosity and yearning to learn and most importantly, are focused on how they can apply themselves in a way that makes sense to them as well as the country and the world.

There’s a heightened call for youth and women engagement in climate issues, and with the call for climate action, it’s equally important to provide the right knowledge, skills, platform and guidance.

I believe embedding GTCL within education systems, in both learning approaches and spaces, can provide and prepare young people with a strong foundation for their green futures.


Read all the blogs in this series on climate change and education

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