"My husband expected me to be like other women when he married me, but I was a
child. I did not know what was expected of me as a woman. He beat me on the third
day of our marriage," as reported in one of our local dailies, was a grim headline
that caught my attention. You see, a sustainable future is only possible if women
and girls thrive. In 2015, the United Nations recognized the urgency of advancing
gender equality, and most importantly, its sustainability by including it as a goal in
the 2030 agenda for sustainable development. Recently I came across a 2022
report by UN Women, Progress on the Sustainable Development Goals: The gender
snapshot 2022, which focuses on SDG 5 (Achieve gender equality and empower all
women and girls) the report concludes, “COVID-19 and the backlash against
women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights are further diminishing the
outlook for gender equality”. The world is far behind in reaching this goal.
1.5 million girls in Malawi are at risk of becoming child brides due to the impacts of extreme weather events caused by climate change.
As with the climate crisis, solving gender inequality isn't a simple fix. It will take
steady collective action to transform oppressive systems and advance the rights of
women. Mariam’s story begins in Tana River. As a 14year old girl, who marries a
man, 40 years her senior, and 4 years later all she has to show for it are storms and
tides, but is unable to leave because she needs one thing - food!
During any natural or man-made crisis, there is typically a breakdown of
governance, support systems, and services that impact girls’ and women’s access
to SRHR (Sexual Reproductive Health Rights). Crises such as conflict, natural
disasters, and global pandemics that produce weaknesses in health systems,
increase vulnerability to climate change. Research shows that:
● When natural resources become scarce due to climate change, girls and
women travel further distances to secure food and water, which can increase
their risk of exposure to sexual abuse, physical abuse and harm.
● In Malawi, it is estimated that 1.5 million girls are at risk of becoming child
brides due to the impacts of extreme weather events caused by climate
change, making it harder for families to afford to feed and house their own
● In Uganda, rates of domestic violence, sexual abuse, and female genital
mutilation (FGM) increased during periods of droughts from 2014 to 2018
● A study predicted that climate change may lead to between 11.6 to 16 million
additional cases of HIV by 2050 across 25 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.
This modelled prediction is based on the findings that as temperature
increases in these countries, male migration and the use of sex markets
For rural communities across the continent who must get all their resources from mother nature, the reality is very stark.
Further, in low- and middle-income countries, such as Kenya, and crisis-affected
countries, child and forced marriage are seen to increase during economic
difficulties associated with climate-related shocks and stresses. Early marriage and
pregnancy can have serious adverse SRHR impact. It’s no secret that the climate
crisis is one of the greatest threats to justice and human rights, Mariam’s story case
in point, the question then begs, who cares? And what will we do about it?
As countries prepare for COP27, the largest global platform to tackle climate
change, hosted in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt in November 2022, African Countries
should encourage Africa’s chief climate negotiator, Ephraim Mwepya Shitima of
Zambia, and his team to ensure that the gender dimension of climate change is one
the top global priorities and fight for tangible implementable outcomes as
articulated in the African Union Climate Change and Resilient Development Strategy
and Action Plan (2022-2032) which states that any interventions must, “Address
gendered vulnerability to climate change across all sectors, together with the
implementation of equity-based approaches, including the provision of skills and
knowledge for adaptation to climate change for women.”
The women and girls of Africa want to be involved in key climate decisions that they
can point to and say: this is being implemented!
Diana is a gender equality advocate and a climate change champion! A
strategic and development communications consultant!