03/08/2013 05:54 pm ET Updated May 08, 2013

An Investment in Women

As the world celebrates International Women's Day today with tweet-a-thons, film screenings and high-profile speaking events, I am celebrating at the Chico Sustainability Conference at California State University, Chico with a small group of committed Sierra Club volunteers. Nestled between panels on clean energy, green gardening, water pollution, and composting, we are making the case for an investment with profound impacts on the sustainability of communities, environments, and the people who depend on them: an investment in women.

In most parts of the world, women serve as a family's primary resource manager, responsible for the procurement of food, water, and other resources to keep a household running and ensure that children are healthy and fed. Given this responsibility, women contribute to the health of the land and community around them; thus, risks to the environment, like those stemming from climate disruption, affect women disproportionately. Investing in the health, education, and livelihoods of women not only helps them to thrive in a changing environment, but it empowers women to help solve global crises like resource stress and climate disruption.

One investment we're highlighting at the conference today is voluntary family planning. There are 222 million women in the world who want to plan their family size but are not currently using a modern method of contraception, either because these forms of contraception are inaccessible or too expensive. Eliminating the barriers to this important health intervention by making contraception more accessible and affordable has far-reaching benefits. Women who are able to make their own decisions about family size have an easier time acquiring what's needed for a healthy, thriving family, and are better able to help manage a community's resources. And when aggregated, the broader effect of increased availability of resources for family planning decreases carbon pollution and helps slow the worsening climate crisis that affects women and their families.

The Sierra Club volunteers I'm speaking with today have unlocked the secret to a more sustainable world, and they're working tirelessly to spread that message wherever possible. The health of our families, communities, and planet are intricately tied, and investing in women is a critical step to ensuring the sustainability of all three. This International Women's Day, I'm proud to be putting women at the center of discussions regarding health, the environment, and the future of our planet. It's a spot they've certainly earned.