DIANA ODHIAMBO: Climate change, a risky affair

A sustainable future is only possible if women and girls thrive.

In Summary

• In 2015, the United Nations recognized the urgency of advancing gender equality, and most importantly, its sustainability by including it as a goal in the 2030 agenda for sustainable development. 

• It’s no secret that the climate crisis is one of the greatest threats to justice and human rights, Mariam’s story case in point, the question then begs, who cares? And what will we do about it?

"My husband expected me to be like other women when he married me, but I was a child. I did not know what was expected of me as a woman. He beat me on the third day of our marriage," as reported in one of our local dailies, was a grim headline that caught my attention.

You see, a sustainable future is only possible if women and girls thrive.

In 2015, the United Nations recognized the urgency of advancing gender equality, and most importantly, its sustainability by including it as a goal in the 2030 agenda for sustainable development.

Recently, I came across a 2022 report by UN Women, Progress on the Sustainable Development Goals: The gender snapshot 2022. It focuses on SDG 5 (Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls).

The report concludes, “COVID-19 and the backlash against women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights are further diminishing the outlook for gender equality”.

The world is far behind in reaching this goal.

As with the climate crisis, solving gender inequality isn't a simple fix. It will take steady collective action to transform oppressive systems and advance the rights of women.

Mariam’s story begins in Tana River. As a 14-year-old girl, who marries a man, 40 years her senior, and 4 years later all she has to show for it are storms and tides, but is unable to leave because she needs one thing - food!

During any natural or man-made crisis, there is typically a breakdown of governance, support systems, and services that impact girls’ and women’s access to SRHR (Sexual Reproductive Health Rights).

Crises such as conflict, natural disasters, and global pandemics that produce weaknesses in health systems, increase vulnerability to climate change. Research shows that:

  • When natural resources become scarce due to climate change, girls and women travel further distances to secure food and water, which can increase their risk of exposure to sexual abuse, physical abuse and harm.

  • In Malawi, it is estimated that 1.5 million girls are at risk of becoming child brides due to the impacts of extreme weather events caused by climate change, making it harder for families to afford to feed and house their own children.

  • In Uganda, rates of domestic violence, sexual abuse, and female genital mutilation (FGM) increased during periods of droughts from 2014 to 2018.

  • A study predicted that climate change may lead to between 11.6 to 16 million additional cases of HIV by 2050 across 25 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. This modelled prediction is based on the findings that as temperature increases in these countries, male migration and use of sex markets increases.

Further, in low- and middle-income countries, such as Kenya, and crisis-affected countries, child and forced marriage are seen to increase during economic difficulties associated with climate-related shocks and stresses.

Early marriage and pregnancy can have serious adverse SRHR impacts.

It’s no secret that the climate crisis is one of the greatest threats to justice and human rights, Mariam’s story case in point, the question then begs, who cares? And what will we do about it?

As countries prepare for COP27, the largest global platform to tackle climate change, hosted in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egyp, in November 2022, African Countries should encourage Africa’s chief climate negotiator, Ephraim Mwepya Shitima of Zambia and team to ensure that the gender dimension of climate change is the top global priorities and fight for tangible implementable outcomes as articulated in the African Union Climate Change and Resilient Development Strategy and Action Plan (2022-2032).

The plan states that any interventions must, “Address gendered vulnerability to climate change across all sectors, together with the implementation of equity-based approaches, including the provision of skills and knowledge for adaptation to climate change for women.”

The women and girls of Africa want to be involved in key climate decisions that they can point to and say: this is being implemented!

Diana is a gender equality advocate and a climate change champion! A strategic and development communications consultant!

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