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Massive Study Links Gender-Based Violence to Climate Change, Environmental Degradation

Climate impacts and environmental degradation are driving an increase in violence against women and girls, while gender-based exploitation obstructs efforts to address the combined crisis, according to a massive study released late last month by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

Yet “few projects that are aimed at conservation and improving the environment, or tackling the climate crisis, display any recognition of these issues,” The Guardian reports, citing the study.

“Gender-based violence is one of the most pervasive but least talked-about barriers that face us in conservation and climate work,” said lead author Cate Owren. “We need to take the blinders off, and pay this concerted attention.”

The IUCN research team found “enough clear evidence to suggest that climate change is increasing gender-based violence,” she added. “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.”

The two-year study brought together more than 1,000 research sources, including an IUCN survey in which 60% of respondents “said they had observed gender-based violence among female environmental rights defenders, environmental migrants and refugees, and in areas where environmental crimes and environmental degradation were taking place,” The Guardian notes. 

Across a collection of 80 case studies, “Owren found abundant examples of the close links between gender-based violence and the exploitation of women and girls, and the competition for resources engendered by the impacts of global heating and our destruction of the natural environment,” the UK-based paper adds. “Sexual abuse was found in the illegal fishing industry in southeast Asia, and in eastern and southern Africa fishermen who reportedly refused to sell fish to women if they did not engage in sex. The illegal logging and charcoal trade in the Democratic Republic of Congo is linked to sexual exploitation, and in Colombia and Peru illegal mines are strongly associated with an increase in sex trafficking.”

Gender-based violence is also directed at environmental defenders and campaigners: “Sexual violence is used to suppress them, undermine their status within the community, and discourage others from coming forward.”

The Guardian lists the multiple factors that connect gender-based violence to the climate emergency. “Global heating puts pressure on resources, as extreme weather, including heat waves, droughts, floods, and fiercer storms, grows more frequent and devastating,” the paper writes. “In most parts of the world, women are already disadvantaged and lack land rights and legal rights, so are vulnerable to exploitation. When the additional stresses caused by the climate crises bite, they are the first to be targeted,” with young girls married off as young as possible and weather-related disasters driving up sex trafficking by 20 to 30%.

“Women and girls are also burdened with tasks such as drawing water and finding firewood, which are becoming more scarce in many areas under the ecological impact of our scramble for resources, and which expose them to further dangers of violence.”

“Environmental degradation now affects our lives in ways that are becoming impossible to ignore, from food to jobs to security,” said IUCN Acting Director-General Grethel Aguilar. “This study shows that the damage humanity is inflicting on nature is also fuelling violence against women around the world—a link that has so far been largely overlooked.”

“This report highlights the complex but clear link between growing climate change impacts and violence against women and girls,” agreed Bob Ward, policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on climate change and the environment. “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.”