Climate change and Gender: Time for Integrated Action

Compiled by Batanai Mutasa

As we approach the 16 days of activism against gender-based violence (GBV), the focus is on eliminating violence against women and girls. However, while the possibility of concentrating on the manifestations of various underlying causes of GBV such as physical and sexual abuse is high, this increases the risk of targeting symptoms and not causes of GBV. Thus, as incidents of abuse increase, the need to look beyond final acts of violence becomes more important. In line with the words of  popular musician, the late Oliver Mutukudzi, to decisively deal with challenges, society needs to focus on identifying and treating the causes rather than the symptoms of pain!

The global theme of this year’s 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence is “UNITE! Invest to prevent violence against women and girls”. This serves as a clear reminder that we should put various causes of GBV such as climate change financing at the fore of activism against gender-based violence during the 16 days from 25 November 2023.

Thus, the fight against GBV is half baked without a climate change dimension, a global phenomenon that has been linked to increased levels of violence against women and girls. For example, extreme weather events such as floods and droughts can lead to displacement and poverty which can increase vulnerability of women and girls to GBV. To make matters worse, climate change affects women disproportionately due to their roles within society and the existing inequalities between men and women. This means women are often more likely than men to suffer from climate-related disasters, such as food insecurity or water shortages, which can make them more vulnerable to GBV.

Addressing climate change requires collaboration across sectors, including those working on issues related to gender equality and GBV prevention. Addressing both issues together can create sustainable solutions for communities affected by both climate change and gender-based violence.

A conducive environment

In Zimbabwe, opportunities to integrate actions against GBV and climate change are numerous and require coordination.  For example, the 16 days of activism against gender-based violence come at an opportune time as the country welcomes the 10th Parliament with a new mandate and a legislative agenda which includes a climate change law for Zimbabwe. Lawmakers can set an agenda to push for more gender sensitive laws on climate change during their tenure. The following opportunities make Parliament a strong medium for GBV and climate change integration:

  • The need to continue pushing for greater representation in decision making processes related to climate change and GBV as women are often underrepresented in decision making processes related to these issues.  This is because women’s voices are at times omitted, trivialized or even condemned when it comes to policymaking.
  • Incoming parliamentarians can build up on the work already done by previous lawmakers as they could come in with novel ideas  when it comes to addressing the issue of GBV and its links with climate change and may also be better equipped with knowledge about how best to tackle these problems from a legal perspective.
  • There is increasing awareness among both men and women about the importance of tackling GBV and its linkages with climate change. This could lead to increased pressure on governments from citizens across all genders for action on these issues.

In addition, the Government of Zimbabwe has shown commitment to integrating gender and climate change issues through the Development of the Zimbabwe Climate Change Gender Action Plan which was prompted by the adoption of the Gender Action Plan at the United Nations Framework Conference on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of Parties (COP)25 in 2019. Thus, the Government of Zimbabwe, through the Revised National Gender Policy and the National Climate Policy, provide a conducive environment to increase gender responsive strategies and programmes in climate change response.

All hands on deck

With so many opportunities for the integration of actions to fight GBV and climate change present, it is time for all stakeholders working on climate change to be visible during such days as the 16 days of activism against GBV.

Various entry points to advocate for climate change mitigation and adaptation as part of activism against gender-based violence can be explored, for example, CSO’s can focus on raising awareness of climate change induced gender-based violence and formulating strategies to reduce this violence.

According to a 2016 UNESCO report which highlighted violence against women in the context of climate change, climate change disproportionately affects women, whether via disasters or climate-induced displacement causing highlighted sexual trafficking or the search for water and firewood, resulting in increased rapes. Such findings could be adopted to inform gendered actions on climate change which is associated with a plethora of pandemics.

Arts based activism can also find expression through various strategies that can increase the impact. For example, symbolisms can also be put to effective use by depicting man-made causes of climate change as actual acts of GBV. This will help to highlight the close inter-linkages between gender and the environment in general and – in particular – women and the environment.

In line with the theme for this year, there is need for strong advocacy for investment to prevent violence against women and girls which can be done through climate financing that takes into consideration the gendered impacts of climate change. Now is the time to ensure that climate finance addresses the needs of women and girls. As such, let’s continue building new collaborative strategies to end gender-based violence!

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