Loss of natural resources as a result of climate change is exposing more women and girls to gender-based violence (GBV), the United Nations Environment Programme (Unep) has said.
A 2019 document that Unep has released for the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence speaks of the need to build resilience of women, men, girls and boys to cope with shocks of climate change and degradation of natural resources in order to mitigate GBV.
The gender and environment outlook document states that among other factors, the extremes of changing weather patterns associated with crop failure push families to marry off their girls as a way of tackling household food insecurity.
This, the report states, leads to early marriages, practice of female genital cutting and denying girls a right to an education.
The document recognises that across societies, climate change affects women and men differently.
Women are often responsible for gathering and producing food, collecting water and sourcing fuel for heating and cooking. With climate change, these tasks are becoming more difficult.
Extreme weather events such as droughts and floods have a greater impact on the poor and most vulnerable, with 70 per cent of the world’s poor being women.
Deforestation, it states, has forced women and girls to walk long distances in search of firewood and water predisposing them to physical violence and in some cases, rape
“To prevent gender based violence, make sure women, men, girls and boys have equitable access to natural resources, credit, education and information and markets,” recommends the UN Environment Programme.
It adds: “Ask your government to put in place laws and policies to safeguard girls and women’s rights. Restore degraded ecosystems to make collecting water and firewood easier and safer in order to prevent GBV.”
Unep notes further that empowering women to become stewards of the environment would be an avenue to eliminating violence against women and girls.
Women and girls also become subjects of violence when men lose their bread-winning roles, it states.
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change recognises climate change as a serious aggravator of gender-based violence. It calls on nations to put more emphasis on the involvement of women in climate action through mainstreaming gender in policymaking.
Lack of secure land tenure systems, however, is one of the factors leading to exclusion of women especially from the marginalised communities in participating in climate change mitigation programmes.
Resource Conflict Institute Executive Director Shadrack Omondi says many of the marginalised communities in Kenya lack titled lands, thus limiting women from investing in the long-term.
“Without secure land tenure rights, women from the marginalised and minority communities cannot make substantive investment, leaving them vulnerable to violence and disadvantaging them as decision-makers,” Mr Omondi told the Nation.
“That means they have weak and unstable livelihoods, which crumble when there are natural disasters such as floods and drought,” he added.
Worse still is that the marginalised women are incapable of accessing capital to rebuild their assets because they lack property to use as collateral.
Mr Omondi said the government needs to prioritise the land tenure rights of the minorities and marginalised communities to enable them tackle adverse effects of climate change
Gender experts have cited climate action as an essential component in the ongoing fight to eliminate violence against women and girls.
International Land Coalition (ILC) gender specialist Paul Cheruiyot said policies integrating contribution of indigenous women in management of natural resources would be influential in reversing degradation of Kenya’s biodiversity.
He said time is ripe for the world to involve women more in climate action, for example by putting emphasis on gender mainstreaming in the policy-making.