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denise balkissoon

When a nosy relative tells a woman how many babies to have, it's simply bad manners. When it's Emmanuel Macron or a climate researcher doling out family-planning advice, it's both rude and shortsighted, an attempt to lay blame rather than fix the problem.

At a G20 news conference last week, the French President was asked by a Cote d'Ivoire journalist about the lack of aid strategy for Africa similar to the post-Second World War Marshall Plan for Western Europe.

So Mr. Macron stuck his foot into his mouth and rambled widely, touching on Africa's "civilizational" issues before noting the "challenge" that "in some countries today seven or eight children [are] born to each woman." Why large families don't deserve aid was never made clear.

Such condescension targets women in the global south regularly, but none of us are immune. Last week, a team from Sweden's Lund University published a paper on "effective individual actions" for those in the rich north to reduce our carbon footprints, and at the top was declining to procreate.

Opinion: Include women-led organizations in Canada's reproductive health projects

To be fair, the researchers' focus was societal priorities, not giving advice on how to live. Their overall conclusion was that policy and education should highlight difficult but effective actions, such as cutting out meat, cars and even offspring, over easy but meaningless ones, such as energy efficient light bulbs. This makes some sense.

But many media outlets took a parent-shaming angle, spitting out clickable headlines declaring that to incubate a child was a global warming sin. Never mind that the 2011 birth rate in Canada was 1.61 children per woman, a family size that would be tricky to reduce.

Or that reproductive choice is a human right, including in the 54 countries that make up Africa, where many nations already have dramatically falling birth rates. When in doubt, blame mom, right?

Insinuating that women don't care about sluggish development or climate change is silly; worldwide, they're far more vulnerable to both.

Women risk death when they stick around in national disasters to care for children and elderly, and sexual violence during long journeys to gather disappearing water and fuel.

Their small hold farms are stolen as arable land turns into desert. After first struggling to grow food, they risk fire and illness cooking it on fossil-fuel burning cook stoves in small spaces with poor ventilation.

Women are at the front lines of every crisis but rarely involved in solutions, instead under-educated and disrespected at every turn. A smart climate change strategy would reduce gender inequality by default; or, if you prefer, feminist foreign policy would be good for the planet where we all live.

Thankfully, a number of organizations are integrating their gender and climate strategies, including the World Meteorological Organization, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Green Climate Fund, which has participants from 194 countries.

There's also Project Drawdown, which last spring released a set of essays on 150 global warming solutions. Produced by an international team of ecologists, engineers, entrepreneurs and others, it's a plain-language take on everything from nuclear power to peat moss.

There's a frankness to the writing that can be odd (FYI, one downside to large solar farms is exploding bats) but also optimistic. The chapter on gender, for instance, argues that every time a girl gets a bike to travel quickly and safely to school, everyone's long-term carbon outlook improves.

That's because if 100 per cent of the world's girls were to make it through high school, there would be 843 million fewer people worldwide by 2050 than if schooling were to stall at current levels.

Now, education and reproductive choice are first and foremost about self-determination for women and their families: That's the main reason to support Canada's current commitment of $650-million toward global sexual and reproductive health.

But since there's a clear cyclical relationship between gender inequality and climate change, every move forward on one global crisis is a chance to nudge the other.

Treat women as people, whether the issue is peace, smart development or a livable planet. It's a faster route to achieving big goals than a lecture during the throes of childbirth.

Justin Trudeau marked World Environment Day Monday with a paddle on the Niagara River and a plea for climate action. The prime minister said Canada 'won’t walk away' from global efforts to stop climate change.

The Canadian Press