Climate, gender and conflict
The environmental and climate crisis (ECC) unfolds against a backdrop of unequal patriarchal power structures rooted in gender norms—it is not “gender neutral”. The climate crises heightens the competition for resources, escalating community and ethnic tensions. Given that women and girls already confront gender-based inequalities and barriers, the repercussions of the climate crises disproportionately expose them to negative coping strategies such as child marriage, sextortion and leaving school. Similarly, often being responsible for bringing food and water to their families, women are disproportionally affected by the environmental impacts of conflict—from scarcity of water to diminished crop yields. It is estimated that 80% of people displaced by climate change are women, according to UN. The environmental and climate crisis is closely tied to Kvinna till Kvinna's mission to strengthen women’s rights and gender equality in conflict-affected regions.
Extensive research, among others by the UN, shows the clear link between violence against women and climate change. For instance, when climate change triggers drought and water scarcity, it forces women and girls to travel longer distances to access these resources. They become more exposed to security risks, including sexual violence and various manifestations of gender-based violence (GBV). The same is true when rising sea levels eats up the land where the most impoverished households, often led by women, are situated.
The climate crisis exacerbates poverty in many regions of the world, and this further increases the vulnerability of women and girls to activities like trafficking and diverse forms of sexual exploitation. This situation also results in a greater number of girls being compelled into child marriages. When a tropical cyclone hit Malawi in 2023, for example, women and girls were forced to trade sex for access to for example food and water (so called sextortion).
Peacebuilding and climate security
The intersection of conflict-affected states and climate change has been termed climate security. Many of the countries already struggling with peace and security threats are particularly vulnerable to the negative impacts of the environmental and climate crisis. Research has shown that 40% of intrastate conflicts in the past 60 years have been linked to fight over natural resources.
The UN Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) Agenda acknowledges the pivotal role of women in upholding peace and security. The environmental and climate crisis is not entirely excluded from the WPS agenda (Resolution 2242 refers to climate change), but there is an emerging call from civil society for the WPS agenda to have a stronger focus on the disproportionate effects that environmental degradation and the climate crisis have on women.
The situation for female environmental activists
When challenging inequalities and injustice, women environmental human rights defenders are exposed to gender-specific violence and threats. According to the 2021 Women, Peace and Security Agenda annual report, environmental activists are among the most threatened women human rights defenders. Working on the ECC also ranked highly in the Kvinna till Kvinna report “Solidarity is Our Only Weapon” (2021), as being dangerous for women activists. The shrinking space for civil society organisations has made ECC activism in many parts of the world both difficult and dangerous.
The climate justice movement and the women’s rights movement share many common goals and challenges, such as working against a patriarchal power system and macro-economic structures that are harmful both for gender equality and for the planet earth. There is a need to join forces.