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Climate Change - A risky affair

"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!

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