The climate crisis is becoming increasingly linked to violence against women and girls, and gender-based exploitation is rendering attempts to curb the adverse effects of environmental degradation ineffective.

There are increasing calls for more intersectionality in governments and institutions’ efforts to combat the climate crisis while centering girls and women in their strategies. Over the course of two years, and with the involvement of over 1,000 sources of research, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has undertaken the most comprehensive look into the issue yet.

Cate Orwen, a lead author of the report, noted the presence of clear evidence to suggest that the climate crisis is related to growing rates of gender-based violence. “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.”

More than eighty case studies demonstrated the link between gender-based violence and climate change, and six in ten respondents answered an IUCN survey said they had seen gender-based violence perpetrated to female environmental rights defenders, environmental migrants, and refugees.

The IUCN report also noted that there has been a rise in human trafficking in areas where the natural environment is under stress. The climate crisis has put heavy pressure on the earth’s resources, and extreme weather is occurring with a higher frequency and inflicting more damage. In a world where women are already among the most marginalized and excluded, the climate crisis only exacerbates exploitation of women and girls.

In periods of protracted drought, women and girls are the ones making the longer journeys to obtain water or food, rendering them more vulnerable to sexual assault and harassment. A study from the UN Development Programme (UNDP) found that girls who take more time to find water attend school less which can result in the girls dropping out. A report by CARE, a major humanitarian agency, stated that women and girls are the most affected in most disasters, and the report shows that one out of five refugee or displaced women has undergone sexual violence.

Bob Ward of the Grantham Institute on climate change and the environment at the London School of Economics highlighted the role of women in bringing about awareness to this issue. “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.”

Sources: The Guardian, 1/29/20; United Nations, 9/25/19; UNDP, 1/28/20, CARE International, 2016.