Climate change heightens threats against women and girls, says a recent United Nations report whose author hopes this issue will be a priority at next month’s COP27 climate-change summit in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt.
Presenting her report to the General Assembly on October 4, Reem Alsalem, the United Nations special rapporteur on violence against women and girls, described climate change as “the most consequential threat multiplier for women and girls, with far-reaching impacts on new and existing forms of gendered inequities.”
Alsalem’s report details how climate-related impacts intensify the vulnerabilities of women and girls at risk of violence, especially when those factors are linked to other social, political and economic phenomena such as armed conflict, displacement, and scarcity of resources.
“Climate change is not only an ecological crisis, but fundamentally a question of justice, prosperity and gender equality, and intrinsically linked to and influenced by structural inequality and discrimination,” Alsalem said in her remarks to the General Assembly last week.
Climate Change and Inequality
In an e-mail interview with Al-Fanar Media, Alsalem said she had reached her conclusions from information in several reports she had received from governments and civil-society organisations, meetings with experts, and other reports and studies that have measured the impact of climate change on violence against women.
“Climate change is not only an ecological crisis, but fundamentally a question of justice, prosperity and gender equality, and intrinsically linked to and influenced by structural inequality and discrimination.”Reem Alsalem, United Nations special rapporteur on violence against women
Alsalem said the negative impacts of climate change exacerbated physical, psychological, and economic factors that put vulnerable women and girls at increased risk of violence.
“Climatic disasters make societies try to adapt through violent practices against women,” she said. “This includes sexual exploitation, early and child marriage, and school dropout.”
“Participants should search for tangible solutions to improve data collection methods on this issue and adopt plans to respond to violence against women, as part of the national plans to deal with the climate phenomenon,” she said. “They also need to discuss providing the necessary funding to achieve this.”
Alsalem called on the international community to redouble its commitment to addressing gender equality. It should speed up its response to climate change and take the vulnerabilities faced by women and girls into account when making policies, she said.
“If the global response to climate change and environmental degradation follows a strong gender-responsive approach, this will make a difference,” she added.
Since women and girls make up 80 percent of those forcibly displaced by climate change, according to U.N. statistics, it puts them at particular risk of violence, including sexual violence. The report says women must be provided with alternative means of livelihood in response to climate crises, and there should be deterrent sanctions to protect them.
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Impact on Education for Girls
The Malala Fund, in a 2021 report called “A Greener, Fairer Future: Why Leaders Need to Invest in Climate and Girls’ Education”, estimated that climate-related events prevented at least four million girls in low and lower-middle-income countries from completing their education in that year alone. If climate change continues at its present rate, the report said, it could prevent at least 12.5 million girls a year from completing their education.
In Egypt, Reda Eldanbouki, executive director of the Women’s Centre for Guidance and Legal Awareness, said that climate change causes many dangers for girls, including underage marriage, which parents can see as a way to recoup losses from climate change-related disasters like droughts, floods and severe storms.
“Climate change has also caused many girls to drop out or miss school, doubling the gender gap in education and hindering women’s ability to get jobs and decent work later, exposing them to further marginalisation and poverty.”Reda Eldanbouki, executive director of Egypt’s Women’s Centre for Guidance and Legal Awareness
“Climate change has also caused many girls to drop out or miss school,” he told Al-Fanar Media. “This has doubled the gender gap in education, hindering women’s ability to get jobs and decent work later, exposing them to further marginalisation and poverty.”
Climate change’s negative effects on women do not stop there, Eldanbouki said. It also disrupts services like health and reproductive care, social protection, and response to gender-based violence.
“In times of drought, women are more vulnerable to crimes of sexual violence because it forces them to walk long distances to fetch water,” he said. “Water scarcity in some areas causes women to suffer from health and sexual problems, especially during their menstrual period.”
A recent report by the United Nations’ Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) monitored some countries’ plans to implement “gender-responsive” climate measures. It said attention to gender appeared in 19.6 percent of countries’ long-term emission reducing strategies, and in 81.6 percent of national adaptation plans.
This shows that while there is an improvement in gender-responsiveness in climate action, gender equality during climate change remains a pressing issue in all countries, says the UNFCCC report.
Legislation and Policy Change
Last month, several Egyptian civil organisations launched the “Colorful World” initiative to raise awareness of the link between climate issues and women. The initiative called on society and politicians to adopt policies to help women face the effects of climate change.
“Climate change affects everyone, but it affects marginalised groups more, including women,” Magdy Abdel-Fattah, the initiative’s spokesman, told Al-Fanar Media. “Legislation and policies must include basic provisions that are concerned with their protection.”
In agriculture, for example, there are more female than male agricultural workers, he said. “The significant impact of climate change on agriculture led many of them to lose their jobs and become more vulnerable to domestic violence.”
Abdel-Fattah also said that when people move from an area affected by climate changes to another, women have greater trouble looking after their families.
“Such difficulties for women can be mitigated by empowering economically and socially marginalised groups,” he said, “by creating an equitable legislative environment for women and restructuring health systems to make them more resilient to the growing disasters of climate change.”