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Climate change multiplies threats of violence against women, girls

Children and women, victims of climate and economic crisis

Climate change and environmental degradation increase the risk and incidence of violence against women and girls, the organization’s special rapporteur on the matter, Reem Alsalem, told the United Nations, General Assembly.

According to the expert, “climate change is the most important threat multiplier for women and girls, with far-reaching impacts on new and existing forms of gender inequalities.”

“When disasters strike, communities may resort to negative coping actions, such as trafficking, exploitation, child marriage or school dropout,” Alsalem added in the report she presented to the global forum.

People strike against climate change and pollution, portrait of young woman holding a megaphone and raise arm. Source: freepik

Climate inequality

The report exposed the harmful ways in which violence against women and girls is intertwined with sociopolitical and economic phenomena, including armed conflict, displacement and resource scarcity.

When any of these phenomena are combined with climate change, the result is the exacerbation of the vulnerability of these population groups, said Alsalem, UN special rapporteur and Jordanian national on violence against women and girls, its causes and impact.

With the combination, not only is an ecological crisis registered but also a crisis of gender justice explained the rapporteur, who is part of the special procedures of the United Nations Human Rights Council.

A woman participates in a march against gender violence in Quito, Ecuador. Source: © UN Women/Johis Alarcón

The document recalls that violence against women and girls is a generalized form of gender discrimination that affects a third of women throughout their lives, preventing them from enjoying their rights and freedoms on equal terms with men.

Alsalem argued that the impact of climate change accentuates all types of violence against women and girls: from physical and psychological to economic, in addition to limiting the availability and effectiveness of protection mechanisms and weakening the capacity to prevent violence.

Post-disaster violence

Despite the seriousness of the situation and the growing awareness of the impact of the climate crisis on women and girls, this has not been sufficiently reflected in global, regional and national policies, the expert lamented.

The report indicates that although the parameters of the studies differ, an increase in post-disaster violence, including sexual violence against women, has been detected in contexts as varied as Hurricane Katrina in 2005 in New Orleans, United States, and the Haiti earthquake in 2010.

Women Adapt to Climate Change in Odisha. Source: Prashanth Vishwanathan/ Flickr

The probability of suffering violence multiplies when women and girls are displaced or in emergency shelters, where the contingency restricts their access to complaint and protection mechanisms.

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Access to safe shelters

“Limited access to safe shelters has deterred women and girls from evacuating risk areas and has resulted in gender-differentiated deaths,” Alsalem said.

On the other hand, the loss of livelihoods and the scarcity of resources resulting from natural disasters or environmental degradation push women and girls into sexual exploitation in exchange for food and natural resources, such as water or oil.

In addition, water scarcity caused by drought forces women and girls to travel longer distances in unknown areas or without the guarantees they usually have, such as travelling in a group or during the day.

A woman collects water in southern Madagascar. The scarcity of the liquid forces women and girls to travel great distances without guarantees, in unknown areas, combining, in a context of poverty, climate change with gender gaps and the risk of suffering violence. Photo: UN

In several countries, women are subjected to requests for sexual favours and threats of sexual violence and rape at water collection points. There are numerous accounts of women and girls who have been attacked, raped or psychologically abused while searching for firewood or water.

The rapporteur indicated that human and environmental rights defenders, indigenous women, women of diverse gender identities and sexual orientations, the elderly, women with disabilities, those living in poverty and those displaced by poverty are at particular risk.

‘Understand the nexus’

“Despite the significant and irreparable damage to the well-being of women and girls, more efforts and resources are needed to understand the nexus between climate change and violence against women and girls,” Alsalem stressed.

She urged the international community to redouble its commitment to gender equality and anchor the response to climate change and disaster risk mitigation in human rights.

“The well-being and rights of women and girls must not take a backseat, they must be placed at the center of policies and responses,” she concluded.

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