Leading Youth Voices on Gender Equality and Climate Change

Meet Four Mastercard Foundation Scholars on the Front Lines of Climate Action

Climate change is one of the most significant challenges of our time. However, the impact of climate change is not gender-neutral. Women and girls are more vulnerable to environmental shocks—as they constitute 70 percent of the 1.3 billion people living in conditions of poverty and who are highly dependent on natural resources for their livelihoods.

While women bear the social and economic consequences of climate disasters, it is essential to remember that they are also effective agents of change. With deep knowledge and expertise in sustainable resource management, women play a significant role in designing solutions. Women and girls worldwide are already leading on innovative approaches to mitigate the effects of global warming and helping communities adapt and build resilience to climate impacts.  However, without the meaningful participation of women in decision-making around climate change, policies will continue to ignore the unique needs, knowledge, and contributions of women.

Gender equality is key to climate action. To achieve a sustainable and more equitable future, we must address barriers that prevent the inclusion and participation of women in the decision-making process and leadership roles.

Hear from four Mastercard Foundation Scholars and climate action leaders on the front lines of change.

Harriet Cheelo, CAMFED Association member and EARTH University-Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program Graduate Fellow

Harriet on campus at EARTH University in Costa Rica. (Photo credit: EARTH University)

“I strongly believe we can face the challenges by being inclusive in our response efforts to climate change. Supporting girls’ education is the first step.

Education for women helps them prepare for the challenges that may arise due to climate change. Working with sisters from the CAMFED Association (CAMA) network, who have risen to face the challenges of climate change, shows women are needed in policy and decision-making to build resilience, adapt, and mitigate the effects of climate change.

The work my CAMA sisters and I are doing at the community level has inspired local and government leaders to open a platform for us to lead the change we want to see in our communities by creating climate awareness among farmers. We’re helping farms improve yields and cope with climate change by blending indigenous and innovative methods to ensure sustainable agricultural production, preserving limited resources.

This has only been possible because CAMFED offered many young women opportunities to have access to education. Empowering young women through education teaches them to be self-reliant in whatever field they pursue. No action is ever too small to cause a meaningful change. Climate change is everyone’s responsibility, and we can only do it together.”

Harriet Cheelo is an Agronomic Engineer with a bachelor’s degree in Agriculture Sciences. Harriet is passionate about community development and sustainable agriculture. As a CAMFED Association member and Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program-Earth University graduate Fellow, she has worked on adapting CAMFED’s climate-smart agriculture training resources to the Zambian rural context.


Kawsar Mustefa, Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program alumna at the University of Edinburgh

Photo Courtesy of Kawsar Mustefa

“Climate change and gender have an unspoken link. Eighty percent of the world’s climate refugees are women and consequently, they suffer the most from the effects of climate change.

We see gendered implications when we perceive socioeconomic disparities in climate change. Despite this, women remain underrepresented in fields where they may have a tangible impact and can help usher in a new era of clean energy. Empowering women is critical to achieving a better future for society and the environment.

Women can help combat climate change by leading in international leadership, renewable energy, and agricultural production. For example, the energy field has few female executives and technical leaders. Because women are underrepresented in these industries, we are constantly pressured to prove ourselves to be equal. Ensuring women have a seat at the table can help increase their representation in the field.

While women excel at drawing the linkages between climate change and health, they are often excluded from global decision-making and leadership to transform our energy sources and move towards a cleaner future. If we want to build a more sustainable and equitable future for all, women’s voices must be heard and included in all policies related to climate change.”

Kawsar Mustefa is an Operational Associate at Zenobe Energy in London, England, where she monitors and operates both electric vehicles and grid-scale batteries for commercial customers to optimize the process of decarbonizing the transportation and power distribution sectors. Kawsar strongly believes that electrifying the transportation sector has a significant potential to assist us in achieving our Net Zero target and, as a result, possibly cutting emissions and addressing climate change.

Kawsar holds an MSc in Sustainable Energy Systems from The University of Edinburgh.


Forget Shareka, a Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program alumna of EARTH University and The University of Edinburgh

Photo Courtesy of Forget Shareka

“Women and girls are highly and disproportionately affected by environmental problems, including climate change. Hence, the call for a strong commitment to empower women and equip them with the knowledge and resources needed to develop climate solutions and advance sustainable development is important.

When equipped with education, training, and access to financial resources and technology, women and girls can be powerful leaders of change. Women are already helping their communities to build climate resilience and shift to climate-smart livelihoods and green businesses. We need to also empower them to speak up for a more sustainable and prosperous future.

How can we achieve gender equality for a sustainable future? First, we must realize the importance of gender, social inclusion, and equity in climate action. Gender equality and sustainability go together. Thus, we need to integrate the two through investment in girls’ education, involving them meaningfully in policy and decision-making, and recognizing their contributions towards development.”

Forget Shareka is an Agronomic Engineer and is currently completing her master’s degree in Entrepreneurship and Innovation at The University of Edinburgh. She co-founded Chashi Foods, an agro-based social enterprise that offers holistic and sustainable renewable energy solutions to strengthen food security, promote sustainable income generation, and create employment for women and young people in rural Zimbabwe.


Brenda Bih Chi, a Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program alumna at EARTH University in Costa Rica

Photo Courtesy of Brenda Bih

“Many people wonder how women are more affected by climate change than men, whereas both experience the effects of a changing environment. Unfortunately, this response is visible in our day-to-day lives, where women have less access to resources, quality education, finance, and leadership positions.

Over 60 percent of women in Sub-Saharan Africa work in the agricultural sector. Yet, they have restricted access to land, capital, and agricultural input. As a result, women are more likely to experience poverty and food insecurity despite their contributions.

For women to participate in the development of climate change solutions, we must ensure women farmers have equal access to opportunities, land resources, and finances. Furthermore, environmental programs should target and empower women to learn more about sustainable ways to manage their farms. Introducing topics like compost making, agroforestry, integrated pest management techniques, and regenerative agriculture will help farmers improve their yields and build resilience.

Additionally, in rural communities where gender roles are still very pronounced, women oversee most of the natural resource activities. In these communities, women are responsible for securing water, food, and fuel for their families. This has often made women more concerned about environmental policies, as climate change directly impacts them. Thus, they are important agents in natural resource management and decision-making.”

Brenda Bih Chi (Cameroon) is a Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program alumna at EARTH University, Costa Rica. Her passion to empower women led her to create My African Womanhood, an organization that aims to contribute to the formation of African women leaders. Through this organization, Brenda has impacted the lives of over 300 girls in Cameroon by educating them on sustainable ways of managing menstruation and providing these girls with reusable pads and menstrual cups. Brenda is also an entrepreneur focused on the sustainable production of natural juice. Through her business, FRUTASTE, she aims to promote the consumption of healthy and sustainable products while creating jobs for youth in Cameroon.

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