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Gender-based Violence and Climate Change

Updated: Dec 6, 2023

Source: UN Women Asia and Pacific, 2023

Climate change in Cambodia

Climate change affects all countries in the world, yet some countries are more vulnerable to its effects. Cambodia is one of them, mainly because its population rely extensively on the supply of natural resources (e.g fertile lands, sufficient rainfall, plentiful fish stocks) for their livelihoods (UN Women, 2020, NCSD, 2020). According to the latest census, 57% of households are involved in agricultural holdings. (#1)


Climate change has been proven to be the cause of water shortages, temperature rising, pest attacks on crops, storms, floods, depletion and degradation of natural resources and loss of productive assets like livestocks. (#2) A study called Understanding public perceptions of climate change in Cambodia, showed that even if two third of respondents could not define climate change, 84% of respondents were aware of changes in the weather, the environment and their access to resources. (#3)

Women are disproportionately affected by climate change 

What is less known about climate change is that it can affect men and women differently. Women also tend to be excluded from decision-making tables on the climate change response.


This is important to point out because we can’t think of concepts like climate justice without taking a gender lens. We can’t either efficiently invest in climate action without including the knowledge, experiences and ideas of half the population.


For example, in Cambodia, water availability is proven to be more of a concern for women because they are usually responsible to find water for cooking, cleaning and household consumptions. (#3) Thus, a study shows that women are more likely to report a change in resource availability due to climate change, yet prevailing gender bias prevent women from taking action independently.(#3)


More broadly, if we look at the main reasons why women are disproportionately affected by climate change, they are two folds.


First, it lies in gender norms. (#2)Discriminatory traditional social roles and power hierarchies within the family’ are strongly rooted in society. They assigns gender roles and responsibilities at the household and community levels. (#4) For example, women carry most of the household and unpaid care work responsibilities, which makes them more likely to be confined to the home with less access to people and financial resources. Even women who work outside have less free time than men to mix with other people, hear information on climate change and take part in household and community decision-making. (#2) Cultural norms also tends to represent women as a passive vulnerable group that needs protection from climate change and its disasters, rather than a resourceful and resilient agent of change that can contribute to mitigation and adaptation efforts. (#4)


Second, those gender norms have intricacies with social and structural barriers. (#2) As previously mentioned, women tend to systematically have limited access to resources, education and information on climate change, land, labour and other techniques. Women also face limited public participation and representation in positions of power as a result of gender norms which leads to differing decision making power. Indeed, even though women tend to be active participants in household decisions, research shows that women are often ‘unable to influence big household spending decisions such as investing in adaptative practices. Men usually dominated the final decisions because they were more economically and socially empowered and women conceded power to them’. (#2)

Gender-based violence (GBV)

Eliminating violence against women and girls and climate change are two of the most pressing global emergencies and sustainable development challenges of our time (#5). As climate change is more and more recognised as a phenomenon that affects women and girls disproportionately, it is equally important to highlight that climate change is also an aggravator of gender-based violence. (#5)


Some forms of GBV related to climate change include (1) the harassment of environmental defenders, (2) violence committed against women and girls in situation of displacement and migration due to natural disaster crisis and (3) limited access and control of natural resources coming from pressures on resources and scarcity (#5, #6, #7) . In other words, gender-based violence in the context of climate change tend to occur in two main scenarios:


(1)  Environmental action to defend and conserve ecosystems and resources. Gender-based violence takes the form of harassment to discourage or stop women from speaking out on their rights to a safe and healthy environment. (#7) According to recent research, incidents of GBV against women environmental defenders are increasing and normalised worldwide in both the private and public spheres (#7) which undermines the ability of women environmental defenders to seek justice and prevent future GBV.


(2)  Environmental disasters and threats. Climate change and weather-related disasters lead to biodiversity loss, food insecurity, poverty, displacement and violence that tends to amplify discriminatory and exploitative gender inequalities.(#7) Indeed, access to and control of scarce natural resources can be a source of violence and abuse that reinforces gender power imbalances. In a context of crisis, such as natural disasters, displacement and/or sudden heavy pressures over resources, GBV rates including IPV’s often increase as a means to exert control over both resources and the disaster management responses. (#7)



The way forward


As women are taking action to respond to the root causes and the challenges of climate change despite gender inequality, more can be done to prevent GBV and improve the meaningful participation of women in climate action.


The first step is to recognise the interlinkages between climate change and GBV to integrate a gender lens into the climate response.


The second step is to actively target the social and structural barriers that undermine women participation to climate action and awareness.


It starts from increasing women economic power, sharing useful information, including women in relevant support networks and allowing them hands on experiences for the recognition of their own abilities and value they bring to the table.  

More leads of good practices, learning exchanges and evidence-based knowledge can be found on the UN Women’s poster above.

Source: Cambodia Development Resource Institute, 2023

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