The COVID-19 crisis has brought about many worldwide discussions as inequities in the global human rights arena have become even more apparent. In a two-part series, we highlight reports in two different hemispheres that focus on women in the COVID-infected world.
Part II: COVID-19 pandemic requires urgent gender-responsive action to address accumulating crises in communities affected by both climate change and conflict
On June 9, 2020, a new report out of Nairobi and New York – “Gender, Climate & Security: Sustaining Inclusive Peace on the Frontlines of Climate Change” – by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), UN Women, the UN Development Programme (UNDP), and the UN Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs (UNDPPA) reveals the intertwining relationship between gender, climate and security, and shows that women on the frontlines of climate action are playing a vital role in conflict prevention and sustainable peace. As countries are devastated from social and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, gender inequality is shaping the experience of crisis, as well as prospects for resilience and recovery.
In communities affected by conflict and climate change, the pandemic further compounds the effects on food security, jobs, social structure and security. This can undermine development gains, escalate violence and also disrupt fragile peace processes. Women and girls are facing disproportionate economic burdens due to different types of marginalization; societal role expectations can lead men and women to resort to violence when traditional livelihoods fail; and important socio-economic shifts can result from changes to patterns of migration.
“Unequal access to land tenure, financial resources, and decision-making power can create economic stress for entire households in times of crisis, leaving women disproportionately exposed to climate-related security risk,” said UNEP’s Executive Director, Inger Andersen. “The climate crisis stretches well beyond just climate, and tackling it effectively requires responses that address the links between gender, climate and security – we must ensure no one is left behind.”
Research shows that in Chad, gender-based violence and male-dominated societies limit the capacity of communities to adapt to climate shocks. In Sudan, the growing scarcity of fertile land caused by extended droughts and rainfall fluctuation is marked by increases in local conflict between farmers and nomadic groups. Many people – mostly men – have migrated away from local villages in search of alternative livelihoods in large agricultural developments or in nearby mines, leaving women with greater economic burdens. Other examples highlight climate-related security risks for women in urban areas, especially within informal settlements. Research from Pakistan and Sierra Leone suggest that water shortages, heat waves, and extreme weather events can create new risks of gender-based violence and deepen pervasive inequalities.
The report illustrates the urgent need for gender-responsive action to tackle these linked crises. Interventions around natural resources, the environment and climate change, for example, provide significant opportunities for women’s political and economic leadership, and strengthen their contributions to peace. Sustainable natural resource programming also offers opportunities to mitigate sexual and gender-based violence in conflict. Recognizing that peace and security, human rights, and development are interdependent, is vital to forge a better future, the report argues.
“Strengthening the role of women in the management of natural resources also creates opportunities for them to act as peacebuilders and manage conflicts in non-violent manners,” adds Oscar Fernández-Taranco, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacebuilding Support.
Attention to gender should also be fully considered in developing policy and programming on climate-related security risks – not only to strengthen awareness and understanding of particular vulnerabilities, but also to highlight opportunities for leadership and inclusion of women and marginalized groups in decision-making processes.
More investment for gender equality and women’s empowerment is required in fragile states, including implications on human mobility, and especially in sectors related to natural resources, where it is particularly low.
“Building back better with a gender lens means ensuring our post-COVID economies tackle the fundamental inequalities in society and end violence against women,” said UN Women Executive Director, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. “Women are a powerful force to rebuild societies more securely, from providing food and shelter, to generating vital income and leading sustainable change.”
Natalie Boone is the AIC NGO Representative to UN-NY