Climate change multiplies threats to women and girls

A woman collects water in southern Madagascar. Liquid shortages force women and girls to travel long distances without guarantees, in unfamiliar areas, combining, in the context of poverty, climate change with gender disparities and the risk of violence. Photo: UN

UNITED NATIONS – Climate change and environmental degradation are increasing the risk and incidence of violence against women and girls, the organization’s special rapporteur on the issue, Reem Alsalem, told the UN General Assembly this Wednesday.

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

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

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Their report reveals the damaging ways in which violence against women and girls is intertwined with socio-political and economic phenomena, including armed conflict, displacement and resource scarcity.

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

The combination registers not only an ecological crisis, but also a crisis of gender justice, explained the rapporteur, who is part of the special procedures of the UN Human Rights Council.

The document recalls that violence against women and girls is a generalized form of gender-based discrimination that affects one third of women in their lifetime, preventing them from enjoying their rights and freedoms on an equal basis with men.

Alsalem argues that the impact of climate change exacerbates 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 ability to prevent violence against them.

Despite the seriousness of the situation and the growing awareness of the impact of the climate crisis on women and girls, it is not sufficiently reflected in global, regional and national policies, the expert complained.

The report states that although the parameters of the studies differ, increases in post-disaster violence, including sexual violence against women, have been found in contexts as diverse as Hurricane Katrina in 2005 in New Orleans, United States, and the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. ..

The likelihood of experiencing violence increases manifold when women and girls are displaced or in emergency shelters where unforeseen circumstances limit their ability to access grievance and protection mechanisms.

“Limited access to safe havens deters women and girls from evacuating at-risk areas and has led to gender-disparate deaths,” Alsalem said.

On the other hand, the loss of livelihoods and scarcity of resources as a result of natural disasters or environmental degradation pushes women and girls to sexual exploitation in exchange for food and natural resources, such as water or oil, fuel from common areas.

In addition, water scarcity caused by the drought forces women and girls to travel longer distances in unfamiliar areas or without the safeguards usually available, such as traveling in a group or during the day.

In several countries, women are subjected to demands for sexual favors and threats of sexual violence and rape at water collection points. There are many accounts of women and girls being attacked, raped or mentally abused while searching for firewood or water.

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

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

She called on 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 be left behind, they must be put at the center of policies and responses,” she concluded. / IPS Agency

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