Excluding women from climate change policies harms them

Tuesday, November 12th, 2019 05:39 |
A woman protesting climate change. PD/COURTESY

The impact of climate change on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) of women and girls continues to elicit more heat than light. Amos Wemanya of Greenpeace Africa explains how it happens and what the government can do to reduce this devastating impact on vulnerable groups

Globally, we are already witnessing and experiencing the onset of climate change. How is climate change impacting women and SRHR?

Climate change is the biggest global health threat of the 21st century. Communities in developing countries are experiencing high impacts of climate crisis, ranging from extreme weather events such as droughts and floods to cyclones. However, vulnerability to climate change varies significantly based on gender. For instance, during these extreme weather events women, children and the elderly are more affected. For example, rising temperatures and drought affects access to food due to crop failure and escalation in food prices. Undernourishment and malnutrition have severe impacts on sexual reproductive health of women. For example, undernourished women are at higher risk of complications in pregnancy and childbirth, premature delivery, severe anaemia, growth retardation and infertility.

Additionally, extreme weather events exacerbated by climate crisis such as droughts and floods, often disrupt water systems as well as sewage and sanitation facilities, leading to clean water shortages, water pollution or both. When clean water is scarce, women are inclined to save water for household use rather than for personal needs and makes it extremely challenging for women to manage their SRHR hygienic needs.

SRHR and climate change are emerging issue. How can they be addressed in the context of sustainable development?

Promoting gender equality, health and a rights-based approach to climate crisis mitigation and adaptation plans will help address issues surrounding SRHR and climate change. In addition, mainstreaming climate change mitigation and adaptation in all development plans including healthcare will help communities build resilience to the climate crisis. Further, there is a need to build capacity and strengthen the community level climate change adaptation and mitigation measures to prepare communities for enhanced and efficient natural resources management, particularly food security and access to primary healthcare services as well as SRHR. Increased research on SRHR and climate change among vulnerable groups, as well as comprehensive studies on gender-differentiated impacts of climate change with particular focus on the difference in capabilities to cope with climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies will help. Policymakers and everyone involved in the climate agenda must be bold, innovative, and decisive as we take on one of the greatest challenges of our time.

By 2030 we need to have universal access to SRHR services how is/will climate change affect universal access of the said services?

Climate change affects air quality, leads to water pollution, food insecurity, as a result of extreme weather events; it destroys infrastructures. All these bring with it new challenges to achieving universal access to SRHR healthcare services. For instance, with increased pollution comes new diseases. Destroyed infrastructure makes it difficult for vulnerable communities to access services. Therefore, it is important that development plans are mainstreamed with climate change mitigation and adaptation plans including attention to differentiated social considerations such as gender and SRHR issues.

Because of climate change, we have experienced increased use of hybrid seeds and fertiliser. Does this have any impact on women’s sexual reproductive health?

Widespread hunger has forced many governments in Africa to spend vast amounts of money on getting chemical fertilisers and pesticides to farmers in a bid to increase farm production to feed its citizens. However, this has not succeeded in solving the challenges presented by climate change on food security. Instead, it has exacerbated the food insecurity situation. The use of chemicals often damages soils and some of them escape to contaminate water systems and the environment. Chemical-intensive farming is also a major contributor to climate change. Exposure to pesticides can have severe impacts on human rights. For example, some pesticides may interfere with the female hormonal function, which may lead to negative effects on the reproductive system through disruption of the hormonal balance necessary for proper functioning. 

What should policymakers do regarding SRHR and climate change?

Policy-makers need to mainstream issues of SRHR in climate policies. In addition, climate change impacts and vulnerability assessments needs to be gender differentiated. This allows for interventions that take into account the vulnerability of different gender groups. Lastly, policy and programme development needs to ensure equitable representation and participation by women, youth and civil society.

Why is sexual reproductive health not prioritised in climate change policies? 

Inadequate representation and participation leads to omission of key components in policies. Climate policies might be suffering from the same fate. There is need for inclusivity in the development of climate policies.

Does kenya have any policies to promote SRHR within climate change discussion?

Kenya, like other African countries, is bearing the brunt of climate variability and change. In its policies, it seeks to mainstream climate interventions in its development plans. For instance, the National Adaptation Plan (2015-2030) seeks to strengthen the integration of climate change adaptation into the health sector. Also, it looks at strengthening the adaptive capacity of vulnerable groups such as women, children, the elderly and persons with disability. The policy acknowledges that these groups are particularly vulnerable to a variable and changing climate listing climate led reductions in food security and increased malnutrition but it does not explicitly mention SRHR. 

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