Presenting a report to the General Assembly on its causes and consequences, Reem Alsalem, UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls described climate change as “the most consequential threat multiplier for women and girls, with far-reaching impacts on new and existing forms of gendered inequities”.

She maintained that the “cumulative and gendered consequences” of climate change and environmental degradation “breach all aspects” of their rights.

Climate inequality

Ms. Alsalem emphasised the damaging ways in which violence directed towards women and girls intersects with socio-political and economic phenomena, including armed conflict, displacement and resource scarcity.

And when coupled with climate change, they result in the feminisation and intensification of vulnerability, she said.

“Climate change is not only an ecological crisis, but fundamentally a question of justice, prosperity and gender equality, and intrinsically linked to and influenced by structural inequality and discrimination”.

Survival options

Emerging evidence shows that the negative impacts of climate change globally, aggravate all types of gender-based violence ranging from physical to psychological and economic, “all the while curbing the availability and effectiveness of protection mechanisms and further weakening the potential to prevent violence,” the UN expert said.

“When slow or sudden-onset disasters strike and threaten livelihoods, communities may resort to negative coping mechanisms, such as trafficking, sexual exploitation and harmful practices like early and child marriage and drop out from schools – all of which force women and girls to choose between risk-imbued options for survival”.

‘Understand the nexus’

She said women environmental human rights defenders, indigenous women and girls, women of diverse gender identities and sexual orientations, older women, women with disabilities, women in poverty, and those forcibly displaced were at particular risk, and yet often fall through the protection gap.

“Despite the irreparable and significant harm to the wellbeing of women and girls, more efforts and resources are necessary to understand the nexus between climate change and violence against women and girls”.

She urged the international community to double down on the commitment to gender equality and anchor the response to climate change and disaster risk mitigation in human rights.

Powerful stakeholders

“For our concerted efforts against climate change to be truly gender sensitive and transformative, measures to address the vulnerabilities faced by women and girls must build on a recognition of their role and agency as powerful stakeholders in the policy space,” Ms. Alsalem underscored.

The wellbeing and the rights of women and girls should not be an afterthought and must be placed at the centre of policies and responses”.

She upheld that if designed and implemented with a robust gender lens, “the global response to climate change and environmental degradation can be truly transformative, rather than reinforce a vicious cycle”.

Special Rapporteurs are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a specific human rights theme or a country situation. The positions are honorary and the experts are not paid for their work.