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Mitigating the impact of climate change on women and girls


Laura Martineau-Searle, GBV AoR Helpdesk Manager, introduces a Helpdesk Guidance Note authored by Jeanne Ward on preventing and responding to GBV in natural disaster settings, with lessons learned from Asia and Pacific.

We are in a global climate emergency. Warming of the earth’s average temperature is on course to exceed 1.5 degrees, the tipping point for climate catastrophe. The number and severity of natural disasters is set to rise as a result, the consequences of which are likely to be devastating. Those most at risk include women in low-income countries, where the effects of climate-induced natural disasters are more severe due to existing poverty levels, poor infrastructure and high-population density. There is growing alarm at the threat posed by climate change and increasing recognition that it is unjust that those who did the least to cause the crisis will be hit hardest with its impacts. Thousands of people took to the streets of London at the start of this week to mark International Women’s Day and #March4Women and called on governments to invest more funding in climate change response measures and place women from the world’s poorest communities at the heart of their plans.

In these unprecedented times, the GBV AoR Helpdesk has produced a forward-thinking Guidance Note - Preventing and Responding to Gender-Based Violence in Settings Affected by Natural Disasters. This offers an introduction to the topic of natural disasters; their likely increase as a result of climate change; and the disproportionate impact they have on women, particularly in terms of increasing their vulnerability to GBV. The guidance note also briefly highlights lessons we can learn from recent disasters in the Asia and Pacific region to improve GBV preparedness, response and recovery.

Three key takeaways include:

  1. Not only are women and girls more likely to die in such situations, sometimes by significant margins, they are also more at risk of experiencing gender-based violence in the wake of a natural disaster. This includes intimate partner violence, sexual violence, child marriage, and trafficking.
  2. More governments in Asia and the Pacific are now managing the response to natural disasters, rather than relying on international humanitarian actors. Lessons learned from the region suggest that international humanitarian actors can still add value by supporting governments to integrate an understanding of GBV into their disaster risk management laws, policies and plans, as well as their recovery frameworks. International humanitarian actors can also encourage and support governments to involve and collaborate with women-led organisations and groups, including in scaling up the availability of GBV services.
  3. Many factors contribute to women’s enhanced vulnerability in the wake of natural disasters, but the underlying cause is gender discrimination. This is evidenced by the fact that women have higher mortality rates in the event of natural disasters in countries where the social and economic status of women is low. It follows therefore that efforts to promote women’s safety require investing in long-term measures that promote gender equality and women’s empowerment.

For a more detailed exploration of preventing and responding to GBV in settings affected by natural disasters, please do read the latest GBV AoR Helpdesk Guidance Note.

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