Katrina provides data: Climate crisis means more violence for women and minorities

Katrina provides the data
Climate crisis means more violence for women and minorities

by Solveig Bach

The climate crisis does not seem to affect everyone equally. There are not only regional aspects, but also gender differences. A study indicates a much higher risk of violence for women and sexual minorities.

The climate crisis is leading to more severe and frequent extreme weather events. This is now known. However, the consequences of climate change are much more complex and have a profound impact on human coexistence. A research team from the University of Cambridge came to the conclusion in a study that climate-related events increase the risk of violence against women and minorities.

In a study published in The Lancet Planetary Health, the team led by Kim Robin van Dalen of the University of Cambridge analyzed the current scientific literature. The team identified 41 studies that examined various extreme events such as storms, floods, droughts, heat waves, and wildfires for outcomes such as sexual, emotional and physical violence, harassment, “witch” killings, and early and forced marriage. The studies covered countries on every continent and all but one focused on gender-matched women and girls. Researchers have found evidence that extreme events lead to economic instability, food insecurity, psychological stress, infrastructure disruption, and exacerbate gender inequality.

According to scientists, nearly four billion people worldwide were affected by floods, droughts and storms alone between 2000 and 2019. More than 300,000 people died. Over the past two decades, the frequency of floods has increased by 134 percent, storms by 40 percent, and droughts by 29 percent. As climate change progresses, these numbers are expected to increase even more.

Expect long-term consequences

They conclude from their analysis that more gender-based violence has already been observed in the past after man-made or natural disasters. The study authors attribute this, among other things, to social and economic instability, structural power imbalances, lack of access to health care, resource scarcity, and security and law enforcement breakdowns. Such violence can have long-term consequences, including physical injuries, unwanted pregnancies, exposure to HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases, fertility problems, internal stigma, mental illness, and the impact on children.

According to studies, perpetrators of violence range from partners, family members, religious leaders, aid workers and government officials. “Extreme events in and of themselves do not cause gender-based violence, but they do amplify drivers of violence or create environments that enable this type of behaviour,” says Van Dalen. The research group sees “systematic social and patriarchal structures that enable and normalize this violence” as the cause. Existing social roles and norms, along with inequalities that lead to marginalization, discrimination, and dispossession, have left women, girls, and sexual and gender minorities disproportionately vulnerable to the negative effects of extreme events.

The study authors used Hurricane Katrina, which hit the US Gulf Coast in August 2005, and severe flooding in Bangladesh in 1998 and 2004 as case studies of sexual and intimate partner violence. The gay community in New Orleans was accused of causing Hurricane Katrina, calling the disaster “God’s punishment.” As a result, same-sex couples have been denied assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and transgender people have been threatened and physically assaulted in shelters, or denied access.

In Bangladesh, studies show an increase in early marriages directly linked to floods. These marriages are seen as a way to reduce family expenses and maintain dignity. At the same time, these marriages often cost less because poverty caused by floods lowers expectations.

Escaping the expected violence

Existing experiences with gender-based violence are also likely to increase susceptibility to it. For example, due to the potential for sexual harassment or violence in aid camps, some sexual and gender minority women or minorities choose to stay at home or return to their homes before it is safe to do so. This exposes them to additional risks and further reduces their already limited access to support resources.

The researchers concluded from their findings that disaster management should focus on preventing, reducing and adapting to the causes of gender-based violence. This can be done, for example, by providing shelter and support services – including latrines and bathing areas – that are only accessible to women, girls, and sexual and gender minorities.

Providing emergency response teams specially trained to prevent gender-based violence can be an approach, as can also be an approach to empowerment initiatives for women and sexual and gender minorities that empower women as decision-makers in local communities.

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