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The Link Between Climate Change and Gender-Based Violence

This blog post was co-authored by Katie Roett, Tawonga Chihana Okoyo, and Lori Rolleri.

A recent literature review published in the Lancet reveals disturbing trend toward increased gender-based violence during or after extreme events

As extreme weather events related to our warming planet are on the rise, so is evidence of increasing gender-based violence (GBV) incidence in the aftermath of such events.

In a recent literature review published in The Lancet, the research team found that:

Most studies showed an increase in one or several GBV forms during or after extreme events, often related to economic instability, food insecurity, mental stress, disrupted infrastructure, increased exposure to men, tradition, and exacerbated gender inequality. These findings could have important implications for sexual-transformative and gender-transformative interventions, policies, and implementation. High-quality evidence from large, ethnographically diverse cohorts is essential to explore the effects and driving factors of GBV during and after extreme events.

GBV can be used to assert control over women and land, often exacerbated by climatic conditions that induce negative coping strategies that disproportionately impact women.

One evaluation of a large climate resilience program in Malawi noted widespread domestic conflict following disagreements over how money from disaster payments should be spent. 

Women experienced retaliation from partners after they received loans or if they were considered to be acting contrary to the norm of men’s authority – for example, one widow was denied access to land after making independent decisions about her children’s schooling.

Women’s insecure land tenure, social norms, and gendered power dynamics allow for GBV to be used as a way to control land and other natural resources. 

In places such as the Chikwawa district in Malawi, insecure tenure is at the core of economic violence that women face. 

Women’s access to and use of land are dependent on the relationships they have with men (husbands, in-laws, etc.) in their family or community who control land, which is often a household’s most important asset. 

Under these circumstances, women can be violently removed from land when relationships are strained or end. 

During a recent project focused on strengthening land tenure in the districts of Chikwawa and Rumphi, 60-70% cases involved the violent removal of widows from their deceased husband’s land.

When you can be removed from your land at a moment’s notice – whether by an in-law or a flood – you’re less likely to make long-term investments in it. 

Evidence has shown that insecure tenure disincentivizes investment in sustainable land-use and climate-resilient practices, many of which require technologies that are not transportable, such as constructing water diversion ditches or planting improved seeds. 

Unequal gender norms around land ownership worsen this incentive; for example, women in patrilineal districts in Malawi are significantly less likely to adopt sustainable practices (intercropping, hybrid seeds, soil and water conservation) following weather shocks, relative to women in matrilineal communities.

One of the organizations that’s exploring a variety of interventions in mitigating the effects of climate change on gender equity is the International Union for Conservation of Nature

They’ve funded several projects that focus on the connection between climate change and GBV, including how gender-sensitive land rights interventions can be leveraged to balance power inequalities and shift harmful norms. 

Some of the past projects that they’ve funded include:

We know from experience that taking a norms-based approach can help prevent, mitigate and respond to women experiencing violence in any intervention that requires behavior change, and increases the success of women’s land and property rights (WLPR) interventions. 

For example, the Securing Your Family’s Future (SYFF) Course for Men is a community-led, curriculum-based interactive course aimed at changing behaviors and mediating social norms related to WLPR. 

Adopting this approach – which identifies and works with those (men) that are influential over social norms – in Tanzania increased inclusion of spouses in decision-making, which fostered love and harmony, built respect, and strengthened men’s valuing of women and their contribution to the family, which has significantly reduced violence against women.

Learn about the IUCN’s RISE Initiatives.

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