16 Days: A Dangerous Climate for Women
This week, events are taking place across the globe to mark the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, a campaign to end violence against women, which, according to the UN, 70 percent of women will experience in their lifetime.
Before we can effectively address sexual and gender-based violence, we have to identify the factors and conditions that perpetuate it. This year’s 16 Days theme, “From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World,” focuses on the role of militarism, and highlights how “war, internal conflict, and violent repression have a particular and often disproportionate impact on women and the violence they experience.”
But in many parts of the world, another factor is at play – one that’s increasingly undermining women’s security and putting more and more women and girls at risk: climate change.
Extreme weather and climate change have disproportionate effects on women, especially those from poor, rural communities. Simply because of their roles in society, women and girls are more vulnerable to these events to begin with. For example, during the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, four times more women than men reportedly drowned, many because they couldn’t swim or were trying to save their children. Decreasing access to water and growing food insecurity force women to wander ever farther from their homes, putting them at greater risk of violence and abuse.
Likewise, women and girls stuck in overcrowded and poorly-managed shelters or camps face an increased risk of violence, rape, separation from their families, and other hardships (as has been the case for Somali women fleeing drought and famine). Displaced Pakistani women who were interviewed after the 2010 floods said that the demands of purdah (the cultural practice of separating women from men) made it difficult for them to access showers, latrines, emergency supplies, and doctors – with obvious implications for their health and hygiene.
The threat climate change poses to women’s security is likely to grow dramatically in the coming years. Just last week, the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report on the relationship between extreme weather events and climate change, and concluded that it’s “virtually certain” (90-100% probability) there will be more frequent and more extreme hot weather this century.
The report also states that we are likely (66-100% probability) to see more frequent intense rainfall, as well as more powerful tropical cyclones. The severity of the impacts of climate extremes was also found to be highly dependent on the level of vulnerability to those extremes – in other words, more women and girls will face greater risks.
More and more, governments and humanitarians will have to respond to extreme weather events and the displacement crises they cause. In doing so, they’ll have to take into account the unique protection needs of women and girls. They will also need to recognize that when preparing communities for natural disasters, or helping them adapt to a changing climate, women must be given a central role.
No one will be spared the consequences of climate change, so we must be ready to respond to women’s needs. Even more importantly, if we’re going to tackle climate change head-on, we’ll have to harness the power of each and every woman. But for that to happen, we must first succeed in making women everywhere more secure, allowing them to realize their potential, and giving them a seat at the table.