A study published in The Lancet Planetary Health argues that as our weather becomes more severe due to climate change, women, girls, and sexual and gender minorities will be increasingly and disproportionally affected by violence.
Extreme weather events often increase food insecurity, mental stress, and economic uncertainty for all those affected. They can also lead to a deterioration in safety programs for women, including law enforcement. Moreover, long-term effects can include unwanted births and exposure to STIs including HIV.
Study co-author Kim Van Daalen is a Gates Cambridge Scholar in the Department of Public Health and Primary Care at the University of Cambridge.
“Extreme events don’t themselves cause gender-based violence, but rather they exacerbate the drivers of violence or create environments that enable this type of behavior,” said Van Daalen.
It’s important to note that Van Daalen is not claiming that the source of violence is due to climate change. The reality is much uglier, she explained.
“At the root of this behavior are systematic social and patriarchal structures that enable and normalize such violence. Existing social roles and norms, combined with inequalities leading to marginalisation, discrimination, and dispossession make women, girls, and sexual and gender minorities disproportionately vulnerable to the adverse impacts of extreme events.”
The researchers identified 41 severe weather events across all six inhabited continents to explore the relationship between climate events and gender-based violence. These events included floods, droughts, and wildfires. Gender-based violence included sexual violence, physical violence, emotional violence, forced marriage, and ‘witch’ killing.
Van Daalen pointed out two case studies to lend credence to her argument. The first case study was Hurricane Katrina in the United States. Researchers found that violence, including sexual violence against women, increased after the hurricane. Furthermore, transgender and LGBTQI individuals experienced physical violence and discrimination at post-disaster shelters.
In Bangladesh, early marriages spiked after flood events in 1998 and 2004. The researchers believe this was due to increased poverty after the floods because marrying off a daughter reduces the financial burden of a family.
Van Daalen says that disaster relief plans need to include infrastructure for women, transgender, and LGBTQI people so they can have safe access to aid. Moreover, she advocates for relief programs that empower women and allows them to be decision-makers.
“Disaster management needs to focus on preventing, mitigating, and adapting to drivers of gender-based violence. It’s crucial that it’s informed by the women, girls, and sexual and gender minority populations affected and takes into account local sexual and gender cultures and local norms, traditions, and social attitudes.”