Bhutan is highly vulnerable to the impacts and challenges of climate change; women and girls are disproportionately affected. 

Women and girls constitute 47.9 percent of the Bhutanese population and play a significant role in climate-sensitive sectors like agriculture where women’s participation is at 63.2 percent.

While there is almost equal land ownership—women 47.3 percent and men 48 percent—women often receive only limited economic benefits such as improved crop yields and market access owing to stereotypical gender norms and limited access to information, knowledge, and skills related to improved land use and climate-smart agriculture (UNDP 2021).

The risk is further heightened by the predominantly subsistence-based farming, heavily dependent on monsoon. This, coupled with women’s dominant role in unpaid caregiving, making up 71 percent of a day’s work for women, which is 2.5 times more than for men (NCWC 2019), means that when climate-related events like floods, droughts or extreme weather conditions reduce crop yields, women face more barriers and challenges to adapt (UNFCC 2022). 

Despite these challenges, Bhutan has shown remarkable leadership in climate action and environmental stewardship. The nation has also made significant strides in gender-focused education, achieving over 90 percent school enrollment at gender parity.

However, efforts within the realms of climate, gender, and education often exist in silos, missing opportunities for synergistic impacts. Not acting on leveraging education and gender for climate action would have a missed opportunity to innovate and transform our learning and skilling endeavours.

Need for gender-transformative climate literacy 

To break these silos and converge the three sectors: climate, education and gender, I propose a rather ambitious approach: Gender-Transformative Climate Literacy (GTCL) as a pathway towards a green and gender-equal future. GTCL is an interdisciplinary approach that addresses underlying gender inequalities within the context of climate change, while reshaping societal gender norms and attitudes. This approach aims to empower individuals to actively engage in climate action and decision-making processes, promoting gender equity through education and skill development.

The findings indicate a pressing need to rethink and reframe climate literacy in Bhutan. Traditional approaches that ignore gender dynamics have failed to address the gendered impacts of climate change effectively or to promote the learning and participation of girls and women in climate action.

By integrating GTCL into the education system, we can ensure that climate and gender considerations are embedded in learning, fostering a gender-balanced green workforce that supports Bhutan’s goal of carbon neutrality.

Why now? Why Bhutan?

Climate change is the existential threat, challenge and opportunity of the human race. And now we have a global consensus with a lot of work to be done.

Why Bhutan? First, if there is a country bold enough to take on ambitious climate goals, it is Bhutan, so why not raise ambition with GTCL. While there is heightened call for youth and women engagement and action, it is equally important to provide the right knowledge, skills, platform, and guidance.

As mentioned earlier, though Bhutan has a stronger starting base, we can do better. Bhutan remains highly vulnerable to the impacts of rising temperatures with threats from GLOF (glacial lake outburst floods), shifts in weather cycle, and changing monsoon patterns that can lead to increased flooding and landslides. These erratic weather events pose risks to agriculture infrastructure and water resources. 

The concept flow for a GTCL theory of change is that with GTCL interventions and approaches, we can move to a desired state where climate change and gender is embedded in the learning systems of education and skilling.

Pathway to resilient future and green growth

The education system is a largely untapped resource for advancing climate action by developing skills for a climate-informed and resilient population. Incorporating GTCL within education offers a unique opportunity to highlight the importance of gender dynamics and climate literacy.

Insights from girls aged 13-18 underscored the need for gender-informed climate knowledge and skills learning system that empowers individuals to thrive in a climate-impacted world.

The recommendation is need for adoption of GTCL, supported by specific strategies to achieve this goal.

The Department of School Education has already made strides with their recently launched competency-based curriculum, and the proposed GTCL strategies are designed to complement this curriculum.

More specifically, the policy brief outlines three recommendations for consideration:

National Education Policy to incorporate gender and climate, by explicitly integrating GTCL, the policy could lead Bhutan in preparing its youth for a resilient future marked by full gender equality and inclusivity.

Create an ecosystem of partners to align curriculum with GTCL strategies on how GTCL might be integrated in age appropriate ways from early on—starting with primary education, then secondary and tertiary and finally technical and vocational education and training. This coalition would be pivotal and important to the vision, design, and implementation of GTCL.

Publish a gender-disaggregated climate literacy database, which is currently non-existent.

As we face a heightened call for youth and women’s engagement in climate issues, it is crucial to provide them with the right knowledge, skills, platforms, and guidance.

Embedding GTCL within the education system will prepare young people with a strong foundation for their green futures. By doing so, we not only equip them to tackle the challenges of climate change but also pave the way for a resilient and equitable society.

Bhutan can lead the way in demonstrating how integrated approaches to climate, gender, and education can create sustainable and transformative impacts for the world.

Contributed by

Thinley Choden