Why the climate crisis is leading to more and more violence against women

– January 30, 2020 – Company

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Climate change also has human consequences. A report by the NGO International Union for Conservation of Nature is damning on violence against women due to the climate crisis.

Climate change is a reality that can be seen through many scientific facts: greenhouse gases in the atmosphere; melting glaciers; temperature records; or, very recently, the violent fires in Australia. But this crisis is even broader: our entire model of society is affected. The NGO International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) published, on Wednesday 29 January 2020, a report dedicated to the impact of environmental degradation on women.

This study, part of a ten-year project, is entitled “Gender-based violence and its relationship to the environment: the violence of inequality“. It aggregates data from more than 1,000 sources and documents from civil society, governments, environmentalists, practitioners, public policy makers, activists and academics. All these sources mention gender-based violence but in a particular environmental context: moral pressure, sexual assault, rape, forced prostitution, are among them.

Why the climate crisis is leading to more and more violence against women

In many communities, it is women who have to fetch the natural resources. Their scarcity exposes women to many dangers // Source: Jamie Wen / IUCN

Sexual blackmail

In many countries, the problem posed by the climate crisis concerns resources. One of the conclusions of the study is that as natural resources become scarcer, the system of privileges already in place becomes stronger. Gender-based violence then becomes an even more important tool for entrenching gender inequalities and oppressing women. This includes sexual blackmail. As explained in the report, one example from Eastern and Southern Africa is “sex for fish”: when this food resource becomes scarce, fishermen refuse to sell fish to women except for sexual favours.

Another factor that increases the risk of violence is that as natural resources become scarcer, “women and girls have to go further to search for food, water or firewood“. These journeys are longer, so is the distance to the home of origin, and the task is also more difficult when resources are more difficult to access. This is more likely to lead to various physical dangers for women – including sexual blackmail such as the one mentioned above, but there are many others.

Women environmental advocates under pressure

In the last 15 years, 684 environmental activists have been murdered in the name of protecting their living space and the natural resources therein. So we know that, overall, the murders of environmental activists are on the rise, as are the socio-political pressures on them. But women are even more victims of this intimidation. “Women activists, meanwhile, appear to be facing increasing levels of gender-based violence aimed at disempowering them and undermining their credibility and status in communities,” the statement said. When such violence does not directly threaten their lives or physical integrity, it is at least intended to undermine their credibility. The bottom line is to prevent other women from following their example.

Mothers who are environmental activists are associated with ‘bad mothers’.

Between 2015 and 2016, 609 attacks were recorded against women human rights defenders and environmental activists in Central America and Mexico alone. In some communities, mothers who are committed to the environment are stigmatized as “bad mothers” who do not take care of their households.

The subject needs to be more visible

For IUCN, it is clear that gender-based violence is pervasive and that there is sufficient evidence to suggest that the climate crisis is only increasing such violence. Where environmental degradation is increasing, it is therefore not only scarcity, anxiety or pressure on the ecosystem that are increasing, but also violence against women.

Environmentalists also sound the alarm on social justice

This report is not the only one to come to such a conclusion. A study published in Nature Climate Change in November 2019 discussed the negative impact of climate change on women’s ability to make decisions and defend their place in society in Africa and Asia. At the COP25 summit in Madrid last December, many activists denounced the lack of attention to the gender and social justice challenges caused by climate change.

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