International financial institution the World Bank said gender-based violence (GBV) or violence against women and girls (VAWG) is a global pandemic affecting one in three women in their lifetime. 35% of women across the world have experienced either physical and/or sexual by intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence. 7% of women worldwide have been sexually assaulted by someone other than their partner and as many as 38% of murders of women are committed by a significant partner. Alarmingly, 200 million women have undergone female genital mutilation/cutting.
Gender-based violence is devastating for survivors and their families that have significant social and economic costs. In some states, violence against women is estimated to cost those countries up to 3.7% of their GDP. This figure is more than double the costs that most governments spend on education. Gender-based violence knows no social or economic boundaries as it affects women and girls regardless of their background. Therefore, it is essential for developed and developing states alike to address this issue.
But environmental issues amplify gender-based violence, which should not be overlooked by governments.
New Report Discusses the Correlation Between Environmental Destruction and Gender Violence
Environmental degradation amplifies violence against women, according to a report by Itza Castañeda Camey and colleagues of international organization IUCN (Internal Union For Conservation of Nature), mentioned Joshua Berlinger of American news channel CNN.
Titled “Gender-Based Violence and Environment Linkages,” the planet’s declining number of natural resources caused by environmental crime, extractive industries, and the climate crisis are escalating gender inequality and power imbalances in households when dealing with resource scarcity and societal stress.
Lead author Cate Owren argued “Gender-based violence is one of the most pervasive but least talked-about barriers that face us in conservation and climate work,” quoted by Fiona Harvey of British newspaper The Guardian.
Since there are fewer natural resources, the people in power (mostly men) can more easily exploit women. The report explained that national and customary laws, societal gender norms, and traditional gender roles dictate which person can access and control natural resources, which leads to women being more marginalized compared to men. The results could have repercussions as the world tries to combat the rising temperatures and extreme weather conditions caused by the climate crisis.
The report collected data from over 1,000 sources on "the extensive direct links between environmental pressures and gender-based violence.” IUCN’s study was completed as part of a decade-long project on gender issues financed by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), a government organization that focuses on funding development and humanitarian projects.
Control Over Land and Natural Resources
Land is important to life, livelihoods, and resilience. Having secure access to, control over, and use of land provides people a source of food, shelter, income, etc. Land security is critical for the estimated 2.5 billion individuals who depend on indigenous and community lands for their livelihoods. Their lands and territories are estimated to account for 50% of the world’s land area. But indigenous peoples and local communities hold legal rights of ownership or control of about one-fifth of the area, exposing them to land grabbing and other negative implications.
Laws hinder women from owning, managing, and inheriting property and land in many countries. In a 2018 study done by the World Bank, it found that 40% of these countries have at least one legal constraint that limits women’s rights to property, cited Camey and colleagues. Out of 186 countries, 36 do not grant widows the same inheritance rights as widowers. 39 restrict daughters from inheriting an equal proportion of assets as sons.
Sadly, women may be oblivious of their formal rights or they may lack the proper documentation to leverage their rights. For instance, Columbia’s Victims and Land Restitution Law is meant to benefit men and women affected by conflict and displacement. However, land claims require detailed registration information and titles, which women may not have access to if their husbands are missing or diseased.
Illegal Logging and Gender-Based Violence
Every year, illegal logging generates $30-100 billion, comprising as much as 30% of all timber traded globally. Converting forests and agricultural land through illegal logging is one of the catalysts of deforestation across the globe, with more than 20 million hectares of forest illegally converted from 2000 to 2012.
Cases of sexual exploitation of women and minors highlight the correlation between the illegal logging sector’s abuse of power and increased gender-based violence. For instance, the illegal logging sector in Peru is the main cause of deforestation, destroying over $150 million each annually and raking $150 million each year. Considering that many Amazonian indigenous peoples live in this remote region, they are often undocumented as their birth was never registered with the government.
This means they are susceptible to human trafficking for forced labor and sexual exploitation. Some indigenous communities are subjected to debt bondage called enganche, including instances of gendered dynamics and gender-based violence. In general, women are trafficked into logging camps as sex workers, while men are exploited for physical labor.
In South Sudan, environmental degradation was rampant after a civil war occurred in 2013. Women— majority of whom were farmers— sought employment in the illegal logging industry after agricultural markets deteriorated. 19 cases of rape were documented and reported to local authorities from women and girls in the country’s logging camps in just two months in 2013. They could not seek justice since there were no contracts or proof of employment in South Sudan’s illegal logging sector.
Unequal Dynamics and Child Marriage
Climate change impacts all aspects of life, not just the environment. Scarcity of food and basic needs, loss of property, and the like can result in feelings of powerlessness and societal and resource stresses. This leads families to fight over resources and contribute to an increase in violent behaviors among men, as well as domestic abuse and other forms of gender-based violence.
To illustrate, the Tafe province in Vanuatu saw a 300% increase of new domestic violence cases after two tropical cyclones devastated the region. Alarmingly, climate change and disaster impacts can heighten unequal household gender dynamics, leading to resource grabbing and violence to establish and maintain control.
For example, men were forced to sell the crops grown by women for household consumption due to prolonged dry seasons in Uganda. Tensions caused the men to beat their wives to maintain control over the land, though there are also cases of women beating men.
In the report, about over 12 million young girls are married off before the age of 18 each year,in the aftermath of natural disasters and weather related disasters to ease financial burdens.
Gender-Based Violence is Pervasive
Owren noted, “Gender-based violence is one of the most pervasive but least talked-about barriers that face us in conservation and climate work.” Acting director-general of the IUCN Grethel Aguilar argued that environmental degradation aspects our lives that is impossible to ignore, ranging from food to jobs and security.
The correlation between environmental issues and gender-based violence should be taken into account by states to implement policies and programs that empower women. Policies should also be made to address environmental issues. Women should be part of such efforts. Without them, there will be no peace.