Gender, Violence and the Environment
When we turn on the tap, there is water. When we turn on the cook stove, there is fire. Such conveniences should not be taken for granted. For people living in rural areas providing water and energy for their basic needs is a daily struggle. Typically these chores falls primarily on women and girls, and the cost is high.
The world’s depleting ecosystems forces women and girls to walk kilometers and kilometers into unfamiliar and unsafe places to collect water and firewood, increasing the risks of being assaulted, or being subject to sexual violence.
In many arid and semi-arid areas such as the Sahel countries, climate change is causing change in rainfall patterns and prolonged droughts. Households facing food insecurity and dire poverty often resort to coping strategies which include marrying off their daughters at a young age. As a result families will have one less mouth to feed and get some cash as bride price. A young girl married to an older man has less negotiating power, and thus has a higher chance to be subject to domestic violence.
Climate change is also causing depleting natural resources such as water. This means women and girls have to travel long distances to collect water for their families.
During natural disasters and conflicts, families are uprooted and assets are lost. Without the protection of their families, women and children have a higher chance to be trafficked, abused and assaulted. Men may become frustrated as they lose their roles as breadwinners, and this may lead them to commit violence.
Men and boys can also be targets of violence. During active conflicts, rebel groups often tend to kill the men and forcibly recruit the boys as soldiers. These forms of violence are known as gender-based violence, because they are either based on the inequitable relations between women and men, or are based on the social perceptions on how a man and a woman should behave.
In tackling gender-based violence, UN Environment has been working with partners on a number of special initiatives. One such initiative is a project on gender, natural resources and peacebuilding with UN Women, United Nations Development Programme and the UN Peacebuilding Support Office.
In 2013 UN Environment conducted a comprehensive analysis entitled “Women and Natural Resources” on the nexus of the three topics. Using the findings, UN Environment in consultation with its partners is piloting various recommendations in the field.
For example, to provide rural households with clean energy solutions and support women’s livelihood, UN Environment has launched a joint-programme with UN Women called “Women’s Entrepreneurship for Sustainable Energy”. Launched at the 2015 Climate Change Conference in Paris, the programme is being implemented in six countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
The Poverty-Environment Initiative co-led by UN Environment and the United Nations Development Programme is also a key player in supporting women with alternative energy such as biogas. The initiative found that provision of clean cooking stoves has led to a decrease in violence as women spent less time traveling to and from the forest to collect firewood.
To mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, Erik Solheim, Head of UN Environment spoke about the intersections between the environment and women’s health, as well as the work of UN Environment to reduce women’s risk of exposure to sexual violence while collecting firewood.
“Climate change hits the poor the hardest. Most are women who are reliant on natural resources for food, water and fuel -- and who suffer the most in times of armed conflict. UN Environment is working to address these issues, because women should not need to fear for their safety just to provide for their family.” said Erik Solheim, Head of UN Environment.”
UN Environment joins the international community to commemorate the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women which also coincides with the global campaign “16-Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence.