Climate action must advance the rights of women and girls
The UK government must ensure there is a global commitment to limit climate change to 1.5 degrees and give concrete support for gender equality and women and girls’ leadership.
As an advocate for gender equality, I believe the most urgent change needed for women and girls is strong action on the climate crisis.
Today is #Wednesday4Women, a day for campaigners to call for this action on climate change and gender equality. A group of Parliamentarians, charity leaders, activists and high profile names have today sent a letter to the President of COP26, Alok Sharma, urging the UK government to ensure there is a global commitment to limit climate change to 1.5 degrees and give concrete support for gender equality and women and girls’ leadership.
A growing body of evidence shows climate change is deepening existing gender inequalities - particularly in the global south - where women living in poverty are the first to feel the impacts of climate change, despite doing little to cause it.
According to the UN, around 80 per cent of people displaced by climate change related droughts, floods, fires, and storms are women. Within communities, climate change threatens women’s economic security as their livelihoods rely on sectors susceptible to it such as subsistence agriculture.
Women and girls should not be stripped of agency because of the world’s failure to curb global warming
It is a predictable, yet intolerable, injustice that when disaster hits in the poorest countries, the repercussions all too often include increased violence against women, sexual assault and exploitation, child marriage, female genital mutilation/cutting and girls missing out on schooling.
Particularly concerning to me is that the climate crisis threatens progress on women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights and is disrupting access to these essential services. While women are dealing with the immediate emergency to hit their community, these services may also be closed. The knock-on effects of not accessing family planning and safe abortion services can change the course of a woman’s life, and even be deadly.
Ensuring full access to sexual and reproductive services is not about mitigating climate change through lower population growth. It allows women to have control over their bodies and their futures, helping to reduce the gender inequality we see in the world. Women and girls should not be stripped of agency because of the world’s failure to curb global warming.
Solutions to both climate change and sexual and reproductive challenges cannot be reduced to individual responsibility - instead we must address the harmful impacts of climate change while advancing the rights of women and girls. We need to ensure women are provided with, and have access to, choices around their own sexual and reproductive health, rights to quality healthcare, and to choose when and how many children they have.
Women and girls who are more empowered, who have access to education, economic opportunities and healthcare, are more resilient to climate change. This must be recognised in efforts to support communities to adapt to the impacts, for example through requiring donor-funded programmes to include gender equality aims.
As Presidents of COP26, the UK government can drive progress on this agenda. This should mean COP26 results in increased international financial support to communities - including women’s rights organisations - on the frontline of the climate crisis to adapt to climate change.
I would like to see the UK announce specific targets of how the UK’s climate finance will deliver on gender equality, which would be in line with its commitment to climate action at the Generation Equality Forum earlier this year. It should also ensure women and girls most impacted by climate change have a real say at COP26, and in all climate decision making.
The Paris Agreement and UNFCCC have long recognised that climate action must include gender equality. Failure for women and girls at COP26 is not an option. Climate change is a fight that must unite us all.
Baroness Sugg is a Conservative peer.
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