Why climate change fuels violence against women

January 28, 2020


The fight against climate change is not only a struggle to keep our planet liveble. For many women, it can be a direct cause of violence.

In Uganda, as in many other countries, the stresses of climate change are already being felt. In 2019 we spent time in two rural wetlands communities where most people rely on agricultural for their livelihoods. The people we spoke to described changing weather patterns, heavier rainfalls, prolonged droughts, higher temperatures, increased crop failure, livestock loss and increasing food insecurity.

But, perhaps surprisingly, our research found that the impact of climate change also exacerbates the risk of violence against women.

In periods of prolonged drought, women and girls make more frequent and longer journeys to obtain food or water, which makes them vulnerable to sexual assault.

Some food vendors, farmers or landowners at times insist on trading sex with women in exchange for food or rent; even attempts by women to negotiate providing labour in exchange for food are sometimes rejected, and these men with power insist on sex.

We found that girls who spend more time fetching water have fewer days in school and may even drop out. Women reported that having to spend more time and energy finding food and water meant that they might not have time to complete their other household and family responsibilities. Or this extra work meant that they became too tired for sex, and some men respond to this with violence.

Some families resorted to marrying off their daughters to better cope with food scarcity.

In families where men left home to seek a living elsewhere, women and children were left to fend for themselves, which made them vulnerable to violence and sexual exploitation.

Poor harvests, livestock loss, lower earnings and food insecurity put pressure on men’s traditional role as providers. They often turned to alcohol to cope and can become more violent, especially in disagreements with their wives.

Our qualitative research in the two communities clearly illustrate the important intersections between climate change, livelihoods, and violence against women.

This research found that existing climate change mitigation and livelihoods strengthening efforts may have inadvertently exacerbated risk and casual factors of gender-based violence. Thus, a project to integrate a GBV prevention intervention in pilot sites within the broader Green Climate Fund (GCF) Building Resilient Communities, Wetland Ecosystems and Associated Catchments is going forward.

To counteract the negative consequences of climate change and the increased risk of violence, a new pilot project seeks to find new solutions to prevent it.

The project in Uganda is built on a partnership with the civil society organization CEDOVIP which has championed women’s rights for over a decade.

This project, intended to run from 2018 to 2020, will integrate violence prevention in two communities within the GCF-funded resilient communities and wetland ecosystems activities by:

·         Strengthening capacities among national partners to understand the intersections of gender violence with their mandates and how to safely, ethically and effectively address it;

·         Mentoring a cadre of district- and community-level people such as Ministry of Water and Environment or Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries extension workers, community development officers, and community leaders to develop their capacities to address gender violence risk factors through various community engagement and leadership efforts; and,

·         Engaging men and women in the communities in a series of participatory activities that will include critical reflection, power analysis, understanding gender violence and alternatives to it in relationships, building gender-equitable attitudes, providing referral linkages to care for survivors and dismantling harmful gender norms.

The project aims to facilitate transformation not only within the communities vulnerable to climate change, but also among decision-makers and leaders at all levels.

These efforts will be continuously and rigorously monitored and evaluated, so that the learning generated from this project can ensure that district and national decision-makers are able to integrate a gender based violence focus throughout their work for broader and sustainable integration.

This pilot project is part of a global UNDP initiative, funded by the Republic of Korea, to pilot innovative solutions to end gender-based violence and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Four pilot projects, including this one in Uganda, are piloting integration models where evidence-based prevention approaches are adapted for incorporation into larger programmes that are focusing on various SDGs.

This often means working within sectors not typically involved in directly addressing gender violence. However, our research has shown that it is an important intersection in many areas of development and thus GBV-sensitive approaches are necessary, not only to achieve the elimination of violence against women (under SDG 5), but also to accelerate the achievement of other SDGs, and ensure projects do no harm.

Without women’s full participation and freedom from violence, oppression and discrimination, our efforts to achieve various development goals will be fundamentally hampered.

This article was originally published here.