How climate change fuels gender-based violence

Myrah Nerine Butt Climate Change, Gender, Violence Against Women and Girls

In a blog for the 16 Days campaign against gender-based violence, Myrah Nerine looks at how women and non-binary people pay a heavy price for climate-driven poverty and migration, through higher rates of violence, more insecurity, or damage to physical and mental health.

A building destroyed by flooding in Baluchistan, Pakistan, in 2022. Oxfam’s upcoming paper sets out how such crises can increase the risk of gender-based violence (picture: Ingenious Captures/Oxfam)

In the aftermath of the 2022 floods in Pakistan, a community member from Sindh said: “We have seen that violence has grown in these villages. The floods damaged a lot of land here and many farmers could not cultivate wheat. There are hardly any other jobs or activities, so men sit idle all day. The frustration of poverty results in acts of violence and women bear the brunt.’’

Talk to people living in areas hit hard by the climate crisis and you will hear similar stories: climate catastrophes are leading to forced displacement, food insecurity, and conflict – all of which are resulting in increased vulnerability and violence against women.

Violence, loss and the abuse of power

This year sees world leaders gather for COP28 at the same time as the 16 Days campaign – and in the coming weeks, Oxfam and its allies will be exposing the crucial link between climate and GBV.

Our #SmashPatriarchyNotPlanet campaign highlights how patriarchy needs to end for true climate justice. Gender-based violence and the climate crisis are two sides of the same coin as they share common systemic origins. Both are the results of exploitation and abuse of power, and both are products both of our economic system and of patriarchy.

Oxfam in Asia will soon be launching a briefing paper titled ‘Gendered Dimensions of Loss and Damage in Asia’. It explores both economic and non-economic losses and damage in Asia, drawing from case studies in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, the Philippines, and Timor-Leste to illustrate the impact of the climate crisis on women in vulnerable communities.

Crisis on top of crisis  

The paper highlights specific impacts on the food security, health, and education of women and how climate-induced migration exacerbates their vulnerabilities. As well as economic losses, the paper sheds light on a range of non-economic losses and damages experienced by women. These encompass the loss of family members and vital community support systems, compromised safety and security, worsening health and well-being, and an elevated risk of gender-based violence.

Climate stresses also force families to migrate. Away from the secure homes their communities provide, women can face a greater threat of violence. Climate-induced poverty also raises the risk of domestic violence:  a 2021 study from south Africa highlighted how heightened food insecurity can lead to an increase in intimate partner violence.

There is also the impact of climate-driven conflict: as we witness an increasing struggle for  natural resources, climate change is likely to increase conflict in the near future. Past evidence has shown that conflict increases violence against women and girls.  

The climate crisis, including slow and sudden onset disasters, are also increasingly adding to care responsibilities, with women expected to shoulder most of these. The crisis is particularly impacting access to water sources: women and girls end up having to walk much further to get water for the household increasing their susceptibility to gender-based violence.

We need a loss and damage fund that addresses climate-linked violence

The key message from our research is that the upcoming loss and damage fund needs to be gender sensitive. Gender-based violence is difficult to quantify in economic terms but it does impact women and girls deeply. They may not be able to effectively cope with the trauma in the aftermath without the right support. We have come a long way in understanding the factors contributing towards GBV and effective policies and interventions to address it. What we lack is the application of this learning to the climate discourse.

It is clear policy makers need to address key questions related to GBV. How do we manage a climate loss and damage fund in ways that will meet the critical needs of women and non-binary people? How do we treat violence against women within the conversation on climate? Are we adequately anticipating the climate-driven spike in violence in our planning, financing and decision making? Are we listening to the voices of women and girls adequately when we are setting out these plans? How do we ensure that climate finance can support survivor-centered GBV prevention and response mechanisms – and how can we learn from all the progress made in addressing violence against women?

Look out for our upcoming blog which goes into more detail on how to approach the design of a feminist loss and damage fund.

Author

Myrah Nerine Butt

Myrah Nerine Butt is Gender Justice Advocacy Manager Asia, Oxfam in Asia

The Gendered Dimensions of Loss and Damage in Asia paper will be published in the coming weeks on Oxfam’s Policy & Practice knowledge hub. And the blog on the Loss and Damage fund will be published here on Views and Voices. Follow us on X/Twitter for the latest updates on blog and paper publications and subscribe to our newsletter round-up of research and blogs.

This blog is part of  Oxfam’s #SmashPatriarchyNotPlanet campaign for the 16 Days Activism  against gender-based violence, which started on 25 November.