Breaking the cycle of conflict, climate disasters and gender inequality depends on women being at the heart of COP26’s agenda.
October 26, 2021
“In conflicts and disasters, women and girls – already burdened by wide-ranging discrimination - often face heightened vulnerability and even deeper discrimination,” said Michelle Bachelet, UN Human Rights Chief speaking at the Human Rights Council in Geneva earlier this month to mark the 20th anniversary of UN Resolution 1325 which sets out a framework for Women, Peace and Security.
It is widely accepted that climatic disasters such as droughts and floods impact more on women than men. Harvest losses resulting in food shortages, having to walk further to collect firewood and water, inability to reach maternal and child health services are just some of the problems women have to face in developing countries which are most affected by climate change.
Shortage of natural resources, loss of housing and food insecurity also contribute to conflict and political instability. The burning of crops and contamination of the land with chemicals and explosives lead to loss of livelihoods and economic migration of families, in particular male members. Often women and children are left behind to cope with the food shortages, or remain in camps for displaced people where they are exposed to increased violence from male relatives and those in charge of security – guards, soldiers, mercenaries.
A recent report by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) highlights how fragile and conflict-affected countries are more vulnerable to climatic disaster and variability: of 25 countries most vulnerable to climate change, 14 are experiencing conflict. While there may be no direct correlation between climate change and war, people living in these countries are more vulnerable to social tensions, breakdown in governance, illicit acquisition of small arms and weapons and outbreaks of violence, because they are unable to cope with the shocks and reduction in natural resources resulting from climate change. All of this has been made worse over the past 18 months by the COVID-19 pandemic, such that many countries have seen an increase in domestic violence and human rights violations.
COP 26 is an opportunity to focus on breaking this cycle of violence against women and girls, but only if gender inequality is placed at the heart of the climate change agenda. The interlinkage between climate change, conflict and VAWG has been known for decades. The objectives of COP 26 are to enable and get commitment from countries to work together to protect and restore eco systems and biodiversity, and establish an infrastructure of warning systems to mitigate against loss of lives, livelihoods, and homes. The roles of women both as victims of climate change, and as agents for positive change to achieve the goals of COP26, depend upon them being central to the decision-making and implementation of the strategies that will take us off the track to global disaster. It also requires women to be fully involved in peace negotiations, drawing on their local knowledge of the environment in which food is produced and natural resources are utilised.
In 2020, the UN Secretary General called for a shift in the “meaningful participation of women in our peacemaking, peacekeeping and peacebuilding efforts.” Currently only 5.2% of troops in peacekeeping operations are women, and only a quarter of UN negotiated peace agreements contain gender equality provisions. Average representation of women in disarmament discussions varies between 20-35%, and none of the ceasefire agreements reached in 2018-2020 included a prohibition of sexual violence or other gender related provisions.
While the commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the Women, Peace and Security resolution 1325 passed by last year with little public attention, COP 26 is very much in the public eye. Central to the Glasgow debates should be the recognition that women’s equal participation and employment in the military, policing and other security organisations are critical to maintaining peaceful societies capable of addressing conflicts arising from climate change, and helping the world to avoid further environmental shocks .
For further reading, UN Women have just produced a new report “Gender, Climate and Security: Sustaining inclusive peace on the frontlines of climate change.” It cites examples of where engagement of women’s local knowledge and participation in resource-access negotiations have contributed to long-term solutions. Read the report at: gender-climate-and-security-en.pdf (unwomen.org)
 “When Rain Turns to Dust” (ICRC, July 2020): 4487_002_When Rain Turns to Dust: Understanding and Responding to the Combined Impact of Armed Conflicts and the Climate and Environment Crisis on people’s lives; 07.2020; PDF (icrc.org)
 Report of the UN Secretary General to the Women’s Peace & Security debate, S/2021/827, 27 Sept 2021, paras 2:
“For example 100 million people now experience food insecurity because of conflict, compared with 77 million only a year ago. By the end of 2020 the number of people forcibly displaced owing to conflict, humanitarian crises, persecution, violence and human rights violations had grown to 82.4 million, the highest number on record and more than double the level of a decade ago.” s_2021_827.pdf (securitycouncilreport.org)
 For example: UN Women Watch Fact Sheet on “Women, Gender Equality and Climate Change (2009): www.un.org/womenwatch
 Recommendation contained in the UK’s Civil Society Women’s Alliance (UKCSWA) CSW66 Statement, Oct 2021
Latest Newsview all
Abusive and Sexist Virginity Testing Abolished
June 2, 2022
Human Rights Watch reports that the Indonesian armed forces have finally ended the damaging practice of virginity testing on female recruits.
Gender violence in Pakistan: women fighting back
May 26, 2022
Hundreds if not thousands of women are murdered, kidnapped and assaulted each year in Pakistan. A 2018 survey estimated 1 in 3 women experienced domestic violence, but conviction rates are extremely low. It is being described by some in Pakistan as a ‘gender violence epidemic.’ Now Pakistani women are demanding action to address the vast scale of violence.