Iran, Women and Climate Crisis: Why Gender Equality Needs to Be at the Forefront of Climate Conversations

On Sept. 13, 2022, Mahsa Amini, an Iranian woman, was reportedly arrested for wearing her hijab improperly — a violation of the Iranian dress code, which requires women to conceal their hair and necks with headscarves. Three days later Amini died while in custody at the Vozara detention center, sparking nationwide protests with women at the forefront of the demonstrations

Reports from these protests depict Iranian women ripping off their headscarves, setting them on fire, and chopping off their hair. Muslim women are continuing to protest against the oppressive culture and overarching dress codes for women. According to the New York Times, the average protestor is 15, yet, despite being youth-oriented, Iranian forces have responded with violent suppression. Human Rights Activists News Agency reported that over 500 people including 70 children have been killed, hundreds have been injured, and more than 19,600 have been arrested. 

As a young woman living across the globe, the oppressive and lethal actions used against women in Iran are disheartening and disturbing. As the world continues to witness this injustice, one can’t help but feel a sense of doubt about the future of gender equality. While the events taking place certainly frustrate feminists everywhere, this oppression should be equally troubling for another, seemingly unrelated group: climate activists 

Climate change is not gender-neutral. Based on findings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, evidence supports that the populations most vulnerable to climate change are marginalized groups in poor, primarily developing countries. These statistics parallel the fact that 70% of the 1.3 billion people living under the poverty line are women. Existing inequalities leave women disproportionately vulnerable to the impacts of global warming, mainly because they compose the majority of the world’s impoverished and are proportionally more dependent on natural resources. Globally, women have limited access to the tools that would expand their ability to adapt to climate change—land, credit, agricultural inputs and decision-making structures. However, women are not helpless victims in the changing world; in fact, they may be one of the most viable solutions.

Project Drawdown is a non-profit organization and climate change mitigation project. In 2017, the organization published the New York Times Best Seller Drawdown, which highlighted and outlined the most comprehensive and viable solutions to reversing climate change. On a list of 80, the organization ranked women-related solutions as the 6th and 7th most effective plans to draw down carbon emissions: “Educating Girls” and “Family Planning.” The oppression and marginalization of women, like the current maltreatment of Iranian women, is harming the entire planet. As the next generation assumes their roles as global leaders, women must be at the forefront of the conversation as they will play a critical role in the fate of our planet.  

According to UNICEF Data, gender disparities for girls in primary school are persistent throughout Africa and the Middle East. In 2019, Iranian girls were being deprived of education at a rate three times greater than boys, and 60% of the illiterate population in Iran were women. On Mar. 2, 2023, CNN released reports on protests in Iran’s capital Tehran over a wave of suspected poison at dozens of schools. Hundreds of schoolgirls were poisoned, leading some politicians to believe that the girls were targeted by extreme Islamist groups who oppose girls’ education

While seemingly unrelated, excluding women from education is doing harm far beyond literacy rates. The education of girls has a dramatic impact on global warming because there is a positive correlation between the amount of education a woman receives and her management of reproductive health. The exponential population growth, paired with increasing consumption, has escalated the emission of climate-changing greenhouse gasses. According to a study done by the Science journal in 2011, if all nations achieved a 100% enrollment of girls in primary and secondary school, by 2050 there would be 843 million fewer people worldwide

Even more remarkable is that the difference between a woman with no education and with 12 years of schooling is almost four to five children. By giving women the opportunity to pursue an education they become more empowered at home, at work, and in society. Educated girls are a powerful way to break a cycle of intergenerational poverty because educated women receive higher wages and gain more economic mobility. They are less likely to marry as children or against their will, slowing population growth and mitigating emissions.  

Alongside education, women will only be an effective tool in reversing climate change if the existing gender gaps dispersed throughout global society are drastically reduced. A woman’s autonomy over her own body will be a pivotal starting point. According to Project Drawdown’s ranking, family planning is the 7th most comprehensive solution to reducing climate change, and it all begins with women having a choice. In 2017, there were reportedly 225 million women in lower-income nations that wanted self-governance over their choice to become pregnant but lacked the necessary resources and contraceptives. In turn, this has resulted in 74 million accidental pregnancies each year. Project Drawdown predicts that investment in family planning could result in a reduction of 123 gigatons of carbon dioxide emissions, with 50% of the total potential emission reductions being attributed to educating girls because there is a close connection between the two solutions. 

An early 1990s Iranian program for family planning is a striking success story involving religious leaders, educating the public, and providing free contraception. The program resulted in fertility rates dropping by 50% in just a decade, demonstrating that this is an effective working model. However, the nation must continue to make life for women more equitable, especially as it relates to family planning. 

The death of Mahsa Amini was a tragic representation of the gender disparities still affecting the global community —disparities that are not isolated to developing countries. While women in Iran protest for their own sovereignty, they are advocating for an issue bigger than all of us. The repercussions of gendered oppression serve as a poignant reminder that these issues are intersectional and will harm every individual regardless of gender, race, or ethnicity if a change is not fast approaching in the foreseeable future. As the most impacted, the welfare of women should be highly considered in how the world proceeds against global warming; however, as one of the most comprehensive solutions, women also deserve to be at the forefront of climate conversations. 


Sari Goldberg

Sari Goldberg is a freshman from Chicago, Illinois. She is currently majoring in International Relations and the Global Economy. Sari is very passionate about the climate crisis, human rights advocacy, and economic development. She is interested in writing on these topics as they relate to the Middle East.