The world is witnessing an increased onslaught of forest fires, droughts and floods and the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest report warned of more catastrophes. No one can escape the tragedies. However, the vulnerable and marginalised groups like women and girls, who make up the majority of the world’s poor and whose livelihoods largely depend on natural resources among other risk factors, are exposed more to these calamites.
According to the United Nations Development programme, women and children are 14 times more likely than men to die in a disaster. The UN Agency points out five ways climate change affects women and girls.
More gender based violence
The UNDP says that women and girls, who always bear the primary responsibility for collecting water and firewood, have to walk long distances in their search for scarce resources. Apart from this, the UNDP says displacement of the population because of climate change such as drought in Somalia and Angola, women and girls face increased risk of gender-based violence at refugee or internally displaced persons camps.
The UNFPA found that sex trafficking spiked after cyclones and typhoons in the Asia Pacific region. Moreover, intimate partner violence also rose during drought in East Africa, tropical storms in Latin America and similar extreme weather events in the Arab States region. The UNDP also mentions that the rates of sexual abuse, domestic violence and female genital mutilation grew during extended periods of drought in Uganda. In Pakistan, violence against women increased after floods. In Bangladesh, this happened after the cyclones.
Rise in child marriages
The UNDP mentioned that weather extremes destroyed livelihoods and exacerbated poverty. This forced families to marry off young daughters so that they have one less mouth to feed. India, Malawi, the Philippines, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Mozambique and Indonesia saw an increase in early marriage affected by climate disasters, the UNDP said.
The UNDP mentioned that Research indicated “a 1 degree Celsius increase during the week preceding delivery was associated with 6 per cent increase in risk during the warm season (May–September)”. This means four additional stillbirths per 10,000 births.
Maternal and neonatal outcomes
The UN Agency said that vector-borne illnesses such as malaria and dengue have been linked to miscarriage, premature birth and anaemia. It pointed out that rising temperatures are lengthening the seasons when mosquitoes, which spread these illnesses, are active, and wet environments encourage their breeding. Climate change increases the spread of vector-borne diseases like Zika virus, which in pregnant women can cause severe birth defects like microcephaly (small head due to a brain abnormality).
Sexual and reproductive health and limit access to contraception
COVID-19 has shown that emergencies divert health care resources toward fighting the latest threat and away from services deemed less essential. Emergencies due to climate change will become more frequent, meaning sexual and reproductive health and rights services may be among the first to be curtailed.
The UNDP noted that more than 20,000 women of reproductive age in Mozambique risked unwanted pregnancy when they went without access to contraception in the wake of Cyclone Eloise in January. After Hurricanes Eta and Iota hit Honduras in 2020, an estimated 1,80,000 women of reproductive age could not access family planning.
The UNDP stated that failed crops due to climate change also affect sexual and reproductive health. The UN Agency said that the world should recognise that sexual and reproductive health and rights are a climate issue and that women need to be part of climate policy making.