How Climate Change Affects Violence Against Women

I’ve had the joy of working with Just Love over the last three years, and it’s been one of the absolute highlights of my time at university. Just Love seeks to inspire and release Christian students to pursue social justice, across a range of issues. Two of real importance have been Violence Against Women and Climate Change, being two of the greatest social justice issues of our time.

On climate change, we’ve worked closely with Tearfund, whether through fundraising efforts in the Mean Bean challenge; we’ve developed ongoing relationships with Tearfund workers and had them speak at events; and we’ve moved towards Zero-Waste and cut down meat in our diets, through weeks of awareness raising and constant pressure. On Violence Against Women, ongoing efforts are launched against human trafficking with regular Stand for Freedom awareness-raising events across the country. Just Love has also spearheaded the Unashamed campaign, running a fantastic series of blogs challenging violence against women, and running events across the UK, such as a domestic violence workshop in Oxford.

However devastating these two issues are separately, an under-reported tragedy is that these issues are far more interrelated than we’d think. In a broad sense, this comes from the destructive effect of climate change- climate change brings destruction of livelihoods, security and homes with it. In that greater state of vulnerability, the tragic consequence is often an increase in violence against women.

This effect can be underreported because of climate denial more generally, but also because causes are often more complex than simply falling to climate change. Poor governance, cultural pressures and economic disparities also make things worse, so we can’t pretend that climate change is the only factor here. Nevertheless, climate change has a damaging effect across many facets of violence against women:

– In Bangladesh, poverty has been deepened through more variable climatic conditions. This has led to a decreased ability to pay for education, and an increased openness to paying a dowry and giving daughters away into marriage at a much earlier age, compared to paying for several more years of sustenance, increasing child marriage.

– Climate change is a recognised “threat multiplier”, and has been cited as a contributing factor to many current humanitarian catastrophes, from the Syrian Civil War, to the Yemeni civil war, to the insurgency of Boko Haram in Nigeria. In all of these, wartime sexual violence has been pervasive- for example, Yemen has seen a 70% increase in reports of gender-based violence since 2015, according to monitoring group ACAPS.

– The UN Refugee Agency has declared that ‘Displacement linked to climate change is not a future hypothetical – it’s a current reality, citing the effects of disaster-related displacement (made much worse and prevalent by climate change) and climate change’s role as a threat multiplier. Refugees, as well as sometimes fleeing due to sexual violence, are much more vulnerable to violence when fleeing, from human smugglers on the way, to rape and domestic violence within refugee camps.

– Climate change has been cited as a cause of domestic violence across a variety of countries, from Vietnam to Australia.

These examples are the tip of the iceberg, and provide a sample of the ways in which climate change can affect violence against women, in a surprising and troubling diversity. The reverse implication is also true- by fighting climate change, we are indirectly fighting against violence against women. How can we move forward from here?

We can pray

‘Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.’ (Philippians 4:6). If we have the ear of a powerful and loving King who listens to what we say and acts upon it, why wouldn’t we pray? Pray for wisdom and courage for policy-makers, comfort for those who are oppressed, and a self-sacrificial love in our own hearts, moving us to speak up and fight against these dual issues.

We can raise awareness

It’s easy for climate change to feel intangible, with effects that might affect future generations but aren’t really taking place now. The real and present effects of climate change on problems such as violence against women lay waste to these concerns and spur us to take action now, before things become much worse, if we are made aware of them.

We can take action.

There’s loads of information throughout this website on actions you can take to combat climate change (many of which I haven’t taken myself) and violence against women. Why not take action on your diet today, with animal agriculture quoted by some as causing 51% of climate change (and less by others)?

May the knowledge of these problematic links spur us to stronger and deeper action against climate change and its disastrous consequences.

Photo by Peter Caton/ Tearfund