The nexus between climate change and gender-based violence in conflict-affected areas  

2002 Right Livelihood Laureate Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation promotes women’s rights by supporting local partner organisations in over 20 conflict-affected countries in the MENA region, sub-Saharan Africa, Europe, and the South Caucasus.

In its recent position paper, Kvinna till Kvinna has explored the interrelation between climate change, conflicts, and higher exposure to the risk of gender-based violence (GVB). On the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict, we asked Charlotte dos Santos Pruth, Senior Policy Advisor at Kvinna till Kvinna, which actions are needed in order to face these new challenges and implement gender-sensitive mitigation and adaptation strategies. 

Right Livelihood: In a recent position paper, Kvinna till Kvinna has described the nexus between climate change and ongoing conflicts. Why it is important to highlight this connection?

Charlotte dos Santos Pruth: It has become evident how climate change, conflicts, and gender are interrelated. The environmental crisis increases the probability of conflict, and the conflict can increase the impact of a climate crisis.

We know that women are many times among the most vulnerable in both climate crises and conflicts. With increased migration flows, for example now in Ukraine, women are vulnerable to GBV and to trafficking. In Uganda, rates of domestic violence and female genital mutilation (FGM) increased during periods of drought.

Addressing the two issues together has become essential.

RL: Although climate change exacerbates the risk of GBV, climate mitigation initiatives are often led by men from Western countries. If a gender perspective is missing, what needs to be done to ensure that gender-sensitive policies are implemented?

CSP: Although women are the most vulnerable to the consequences of climate change and also on a grassroots and global level constitute a large proportion of activists fighting against climate change, they are extremely absent in decision-making around how to mitigate and adapt to climate degradation. Grassroots women’s and indigenous women’s organisations are excluded from high-level discussions in many parts of the world. Further, we witness a lack of gender knowledge and gender expertise, which results in the absence of a gender perspective in programs and projects.

When discussing these issues it is also important to remember that women’s rights organisations are very under-funded, they do a lot of work for almost no money, and they receive only a fraction of development and cooperation aid. Finally, we should invest in feminist academic research that could help guide how to implement a gendered approach.

RL: The financing of mitigation and adaptation projects often lacks an intersectional approach; hence women’s needs are usually ignored in the planning of climate strategies. How does Kvinna till Kvinna deal with this problem? 

CSP: We started the discussion with our partner organisations to understand how climate change and GBV are closely linked. We need to understand within the women’s movement how we can support and work together, also with local environmental organisations, to demand influence in policies on environmental and climate change. Kvinna till Kvinna is not just financing partners, we also have a political partnership, where it is essential to discuss what is needed and needs to be done.

RL: Would you like to offer some examples of good practices, as implemented by Kvinna till Kvinna and its partner organisations?

CSP: It is hard to talk about good practices given that this line of work is still quite new for us. However, there are some great examples such as that of our partners in Rwanda. They have supported communities with cooking supplies that run on less fuel. By doing so, they prevent the women from walking long distances to take the needed fuel. This action allows the communities to reduce their consumption and lower the risks of sexual assaults, which are higher when walking long distances alone.

RL: How do you envisage the actions of Kvinna till Kvinna in the next years, with regards to the upcoming challenges?

CSP: We have recently finalised our new 6-year strategy, and the nexus of climate change, conflict and gender is an important part of it. We decided to reduce our environmental footprint and support our partners who are already working on these issues. For example, we are currently working with Oxfam on a project in the MENA region, where we are mapping women’s rights organisations’ engagement in environmental issues. It is important to remember that female environmental defenders are amongst the most threatened activists globally, and need a lot of international support.

Our focus will always be on peacebuilding and women’s rights, and this issue is connected to both, so I believe we will work a lot on this topic in the upcoming years.

Read more about the work of Kvinna till Kvinna in Rwanda.