In Depth

How the climate crisis is ‘increasing violence against women’

Landmark study finds that environmental degradation is fuelling gender-based abuse

The environmental crisis is driving gender-based abuses including sexual assault, domestic violence and forced prostitution, according to a major report.

A two-year study by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) found “clear evidence to suggest that climate change is increasing gender-based violence”, say the researchers.

Campaigners are now calling on governments to put “women and girls... at the heart of any viable strategies on the climate and ecology”, The Guardian reports.

What exactly did the study find?

In what is believed to be the most comprehensive study yet of its kind, the IUCN collated data from more than 1,000 sources relating to what the intergovernmental organisation describes as “the extensive direct links between environmental pressures and gender-based violence”, reports CNN

Summarising their findings, lead report author Cate Owren said: “As environmental degradation and stress on ecosystems increases, that in turn creates scarcity and stress for people, and the evidence shows that, where environmental pressures increase, gender-based violence increases.”

The report notes that “national and customary laws, societal gender norms and traditional gender roles dictate who can access and control natural resources”, which often results in the “marginalisation of women compared to men”.

The researchers also surveyed hundreds of organisations worldwide, of which six in ten respondents reported gender-based violence among “female environmental rights defenders, environmental migrants and refugees”, as well as in areas where “environmental degradation was taking place”.

The many examples of such abuses uncovered by the study included fishermen in eastern and southern Africa who reportedly refused to sell fish to women if they did not engage in sex, according to The Guardian.

The Democratic Republic of Congo’s illegal logging and charcoal trade has also been linked to sexual exploitation, as have illegal mines in Colombia and Peru illegal mines.

“Globally, about 12 million more young girls are thought to have been married off after increasing natural disasters, and weather-related disasters have been shown to increase sexual trafficking by 20%-30%” the newspaper adds. 

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And the reaction?

Grethel Aguilar, acting director-general of the IUCN, said: “This study shows that the damage humanity is inflicting on nature is also fuelling violence against women around the world – a link that has so far been largely overlooked.”

Bob Ward, environmental policy director at the London School of Economics’ Grantham Research Institute, highlights the role that female campaigners such as Greta Thunberg are playing in bringing the world’s attention to the climate change crisis.

“The empowerment of women and girls and their protection from the direct and indirect consequences of climate change must lie at the heart of the just transition to zero-carbon and climate-resilient societies,” he said.

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