Gender and the Climate Crisis

Photo credit: Jaipal Singh/EPA

Increasingly, the consequences of climate change are being felt the world over. Recently the media has been preoccupied with fires in Australia, flooding in the UK, changing demands for agricultural practices across the globe in response to changing weather conditions. Most of the humanitarian disasters caused by climate change, such as the food crises in Madagascar, Haiti, or Ethiopia in 2018, went underreported by the global media, despite natural disasters in 2018 alone being responsible for the deaths of at least 5 thousand people and subjected almost 29 million people to humanitarian aid. It is even less frequently reported that women are affected differently by climate change largely because of their additional responsibilities within their families and communities. How and why? We will explore these questions and consider the intersection of climate change and gender throughout this article.

Why?

Women are disproportionately affected by climate change as they are worse positioned in social, economic and political hierarchies. Women everywhere are less likely to influence decisions that affect their lives and women are more likely than men to be poor. While both men and women suffer in poverty and crises, gender discrimination means that women have far fewer resources to cope. They are likely to be the last to eat, the ones least likely to access healthcare, and are routinely trapped in time-consuming, unpaid domestic tasks. They are further disadvantaged due to lack of legal and land rights, which leaves them exposed to exploitation.

People with low income are overall more affected by crisis and the majority of the world’s poor are women. In rural areas, this can be because they depend on natural resources for food, water, and income, which are becoming increasingly scarce. Women are often the person responsible in the family for providing the resources to cook with, to use for heating, and for collecting water. Natural, local resources are disappearing and women in communities across the globe are required to walk further and further to get what they need.

Finally, women are more exposed to the negative impacts of disasters, such as sickness, injury, or even death, due to their lower socio-economic status, behavioural restrictions, and lesser access to information. In the past decades, these disasters have become more frequent and severe due to climate change.

While climate policies are yet to fully address the different impacts of climate change on different genders, there has been a shift towards implementing gender-sensitive climate policies to acknowledge the different needs of those affected and pave the way for climate action by, and for, women. Unlocking the capability of women is an important opportunity to creating and sustaining effective climate solutions.

How?

Education

Families often need to take their daughters out of school so they can help to make money, manage the household, or care for siblings. This creates developmental gaps in women’s lives that have several consequences, for instance, a lack of knowledge on climate change and ways to deal with its effects.

Child Marriage

When families struggle to survive due to the climate crisis, for example, if crops were bad and couldn’t be harvested, or the village was flooded, families might end up marrying off their young daughters to alleviate the financial strain. About 12 million girls are thought to have been married off due to natural disasters and reports have shown that human trafficking rises in areas where the natural environment is under stress. Child marriages are also linked to early pregnancy, which in itself can be a threat to the mother and the baby, in addition to limiting a girl’s access to education.

Health

Climate change can bring unpredictable weather patterns, less food, decreasing access to safe water and unstable living conditions. These factors affect women’s health in various ways. Firstly, women and girls are more likely to starve due to differences in income, employment opportunities and even cultural traditions that allow them to eat last and smaller proportions of meals. Secondly, some diseases are more dangerous for girls due to menstruation, pregnancy or young motherhood as women in these stages are already more exposed to develop complications such as infections, high blood pressure, severe bleeding, or unsafe abortions, especially if they don’t receive adequate healthcare. Additionally, if the country is heavily affected by disasters, there will be a disruption to health services which often leads to an increase in sexual and health problems.

Gender-based Violence

As in many crisis and conflicts, research has shown that the climate crisis increases physical, verbal, and sexual abuse against women. When women and children flee their homes as a result natural disaster or poverty caused by drought or floods, they become more vulnerable to human trafficking, rape, and child marriage and it has been shown that natural disasters have increased sexual trafficking by 20-30%. Migration can also be incredibly expensive, and vulnerable women are forced into owing sums of up to £40,000 in exchange for safe passage. They are told if they won’t pay, terrible thing will happen to their families, therefore they are forced into prostitution across Europe. However, money is not the only way gangs recruit women, they also use false promises of legitimate employment, and traditional ceremonies to have psychological control over them. According to the UN 80% of all Nigerian women who arrived in Italy by boat in 2016 will be trafficked into prostitution.

Additionally, sexual abuse is often found in unsustainable and illegal businesses, for instance in illegal fishing in Southeast Asia, logging in Congo, or mining in Colombia and Peru. There is also an increasing amount of violence directed against climate change activists and defenders.

 Solutions

First of all, we must protect and ensure girls’ education. It is the basis of affecting change across the board and a necessary element of a holistic solution. Not only it is every child’s right to receive an education, but this must be utilised to prepare children for the challenges associated with climate change and provide them with the resources to face these challenges. Through education, girls need to be supported to do the best they can and more, to be ambitious and to become leaders. Secondly, to empower women as agents of change and innovation rather than considering them purely as victims of climate change. If we support women into positions of leadership, climate policy, and decision making then we are enabling an environment for gender-sensitive environmental action to flourish. Despite women’s key role in climate action and coming up with effective solutions, they are still woefully underrepresented at the leadership level, particularly women of colour. We have to start by acknowledging the fact that women make decisions on climate change every day, that they are often responsible for childcare, purchasing decisions as consumers or influencing carbon emissions as farmers. The potential of women to transform their lives is unlimited – if they are given the opportunity to shine.

At The Circle, we aim to address the inequalities that women and girls face across the globe by empowering them directly and influencing change, policy systems, and processes. To find out more about our work click here.

This article was written by Anna Renfrew and Csenge Gábeli. Anna is the Project and Communications Officer at The Circle and Csenge is one of our volunteers. Csenge is a university student, a volunteer, and a feminist. She is originally from Hungary, but has started my university in London, which she loves.


Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: A Human Rights Violation

Photo Credit: Tim Freccia, World Vision.

“At least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone some form of female genital mutilation or cutting” (UN Women)

This February, news headlines have been focusing a lot on FGM/C due to it being a month in which many individuals, charities and organisations raise awareness of this life-threatening practice.

FGM/C is practiced in at least 30 countries and at least 200 million girls and women have been cut. Over 100 million cases have happened across Egypt, Ethiopia and Indonesia alone. Despite both the physical and mental health consequences, FGM/C is a practice rooted in tradition. It is a tradition which has been around for hundreds of years which means putting an end to it is a very complex and sensitive issue.

“Female genital mutilation (FGM) includes procedures that intentionally alter or cause injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.” (World Health Organization)

In February 2018, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women stated for International Day of Zero Tolerance to FGM/C that “FGM is an act that cuts away equality”. Women suffer immense pain and a lifetime of complications such as neonatal death. Girls are cut with no opportunity to defend themselves, no voice to say no. This is a human rights violation.

FGM/C is usually carried out on young women between infancy and 15 years of age. Before these girls become adults’, the possibility to have a natural childbirth is taken away from them. According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), women are at a significant risk of complications such as a post-partum haemorrhage, a prolonged and obstructed labour and worse of all losing their baby. FGM/C has no health benefits; so why are women and girls being forced to suffer such immense pain?

FGM/C is rooted in tradition and culture. Mlambo-Ngcuka stated this month how this practice is a form of gender-based violence and cannot be isolated from other forms of violence against women and girls. Neil Williams of World Vision UK reported for girlsnotbrides.com about travelling to Ethiopia to meet girls at risk of FGM/C and their families. Through the conversations Williams had with the girls and their families, we begin to understand how FGM/C and child marriage are intrinsically linked. Parents fear abduction and pre-marital sex and so remove their daughters from school and arrange to have them cut and married at an early age. Devastatingly, this is considered a safer alternative.

In a statement for the 2017 International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, Mlambo-Ngcuka highlighted how children living in communities where FGM/C is practiced will not finish school and will therefore have limited employment prospects. The cycle continues as girls who have mothers without an education are more likely to be subjected to FGM/C. They see their daughters being cut as adding value to their lives, securing a future marriage and family honour. Then again it is also seen as suppressing their sexuality. Young women and girls are cruelly stripped of the opportunity to make their own choices about their future. In some communities’ girls are not educated beyond lower secondary school, leading them to get married as it is believed their future prospects will be greater. There are also a lack of job opportunities and these jobs are prioritized for boys’. But educating girls can prevent the reoccurrence of child marriage and FGM/C. Education can create a future for girls where they are not limited by decisions made about their bodies without their consent.

FGM/C is tied up in a complex web of other human rights issues which we must simultaneously address.

According to UNICEF, in Djibouti where 78% of women and girls are subjected to FGM/C, a woman named Mariam Kako was cut at five years old. A razorblade was used to perform the type of FGM/C called pharaonic. When her daughter was born Kako told her mother that she would be not cut. Her mother ignored those wishes, showing her deeply held belief in this tradition. Kako’s baby girl died 40 days later at six months old. Kako now works to educate the population through encouraging people to tell their stories and refuting the myth that FGM/C is associated with religion. Many communities believe that child marriage and FGM/C are a ‘marker of their religious identity’. However, in religious scripture, this is not a requirement.

Experiences like Mlambo-Ngcuka’s and Mariam Kako’s stories are deeply personal and these women are incredibly brave to speak up about what they have been through to help expose the brutal effect FGM/C has on women and girls;

Photo Credit: Ashenafi Tibebe, The Elders. 2011.

“Public declarations against FGM in 2016 and 2017 helped save nearly 1,000 girls from cutting”

According to BBC News, by 2020 secondary school pupils in England will be educated on FGM as a dangerous practice. This education is incredibly important. According to UNICEF, between 2019 and 2030, 68 million girls will be cut if active steps are not taken to stop this brutal practice.

Many do not realise that FGM/C happens in the UK. Hibo Wadere told her story to the BBC, published on 4th February 2019. As a women she graphically describes the experience she went through as a six-year-old girl; the memories of blood and the screams still distressingly vivid.

UN Women are working with traditional leaders across Africa to increase commitment to ending child marriage and FGM/C. FGM/C is prevalent across 30 countries: 28 of them are in Africa. Queen Mother Best Kemigisa of the Tooro Kingdom, Uganda supports the work of UN Women. The Queen Mother states how people will listen to the religious and traditional leaders who uphold these practices as adding value to the lives of women and girls. The work UN Women are doing is vitally important. We need to work with these leaders and listen to their perspective in order for them to hopefully choose to listen to the reasons why these practices are unnecessary and harmful. If the minds of these leaders are changed, so too will the minds of their communities.

Annie Lennox’s Global Feminism campaign addresses how as feminists we must be looking at gender inequality on a global scale. It is about recognising that “Feminism needs to be relevant, appreciated and respected especially where the needs are greatest —in countries where women and girls are not even near the lowest rung of the ladder in terms of being able to realise the most fundamental of human rights.” – (Annie Lennox). Feminism is about reaching out to individual women and girls and addressing their individual needs which vary depending on where you live in the world. We must make sure to help encourage and strengthen the platform for women to speak up about their experiences of FGM/C and empower social and cultural change.

The UN have made it one of their sustainable development goals to “Eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation” (Goal 5.3).

It is incredible that we dedicate February to raising awareness of FGM/C. We need intense periods of time where we gather together to educate people who are not aware of FGM/C or indeed the scale of the problem. But the campaigning cannot occur only in February. In order to continue fighting for women and girls to lead healthy lives, we must carry on discussing the issue and taking action to end it.

“Ending FGM is possible in our generation. It is no longer a dream. It is happening” – Regional UN Women Ambassador for Africa, Jaha Dukureh, at the Opening Session of the European Development Days, Spotlight Initiative section, June 2018

For more information about FGM/C visit the following link

#WomenEmpoweringWomen #GlobalFeminism

This article was written by Georgia Bridgett who is an intern for The Circle. Georgia is a recent English graduate and is passionate about women’s rights and the underlying issues in the fast-fashion industry.