As we stand at the crossroads of climate change and its far-reaching consequences, it is imperative that we examine the often-overlooked aspect of this crisis—the disproportionate impact on women and their health and rights.
A recent report by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) in collaboration with Queen Mary University of London has shed light on a stark reality—only a third of countries include sexual and reproductive health in their national plans to combat the climate crisis.
The Alarming Statistics
Out of 119 countries that have published climate plans, only 38 of them consider access to contraception and maternal and newborn health services. Furthermore, a mere 15 make any reference to violence against women. These statistics are not merely numbers; they represent a glaring gap in our response to the climate crisis. The climate crisis is exacerbating existing inequalities, and its impact on women and girls cannot be overlooked.
Maternal Health at Risk
Rising temperatures have been linked to a decline in maternal health. Complications during pregnancy, such as gestational diabetes, are becoming more common due to extreme heat. This not only endangers the lives of mothers but also their unborn children. Moreover, extreme heat has been associated with triggering earlier deliveries and an increase in stillbirths. The climate crisis directly threatens the well-being of pregnant women and their infants.
Disruption of Health Services
In regions like East and Southern Africa, tropical cyclones have wreaked havoc on health facilities. This disruption affects access to maternal health services, putting the lives of countless women at risk. Waterborne diseases like cholera spread in the wake of such disasters, compounding the challenges faced by women and girls in these regions.
Gender-Based Violence and Child Marriage
The climate crisis doesn't stop at physical health. Hurricanes and droughts increase the risks of gender-based violence and child marriage. Families under stress, struggling to meet their basic needs, are less able to support their daughters. In desperation, they may resort to marrying them off at a young age. This not only robs these young girls of their childhood but also their dreams and aspirations. Vietnam stands as the sole country to acknowledge that child marriage occurs more frequently during times of crisis. For instance, in Bangladesh, marriages of girls aged 11 to 14 increased by half during a month-long heatwave. This fact alone should galvanize the global community to take immediate action.
Despite the grim picture, countries are taking meaningful action. Paraguay, Seychelles, and Benin have recognized the necessity of building climate-resilient health systems. These systems ensure that women can give birth safely and access vital health services without fear. Nine countries, including El Salvador, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, have incorporated policies and interventions to address gender-based violence. Dominica, a lone champion, has recognized the need for contraception, understanding the disruptions that climate-related disasters can cause to family-planning services.
The climate crisis is a threat that affects us all, but its impact is not gender-neutral. Women and girls face unique challenges, from declining maternal health to gender-based violence and child marriage. It's imperative that we recognize these challenges and work towards more inclusive climate policies. By doing so, we not only protect the rights and well-being of women and girls but also empower them to be resilient in the face of climate change. It's time to create a future where no one is left behind, regardless of gender.
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