Violence against women and girls have always been a hidden global crisis irrespective of geography or culture. And all the more so women belonging to marginalized social groups experience it more often at the hands of their husbands or partners.

According to the UN, more than 80 per cent of people displaced by climate change are women. In the 2004 tsunami, according to an Oxfam report, men survivors outnumbered women at a shocking ratio of almost 3:1 in Sri Lanka, Indonesia and India. 

Part of this may be due to the gender assigned roles to females in the society that compels them to take care of the children and elders and ensure their safety first at the time of disasters.

However, what’s worse is how these natural disasters make women, girls and other marginalised genders of all ages more vulnerable to sexual violence, and open discussions on the same have yet to take place. 

The reasons for this are multifaceted and go back to issues of exploitation and displacement, which impact Indigenous, Black, and migrant people the most.

“After natural disasters, women who are displaced can end up in unsafe, overcrowded shelters and other facilities where they’re at greater risk of sexual assault,” said Osub Ahmed, a senior policy analyst of women’s health and rights at a US think tank called the Center for American Progress.

For example, a third of sexual assaults were reported at evacuation shelters in the predominantly Black city of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita in 2005.

And according to a 2006 survey by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, a rise in sexual violence was also reported in Japan in the immediate aftermath of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Thus the fact that sexual violence is related to climate change is undeniable and quite abhorrent as it puts women more so on the receiving end of such disasters from time and again.

Violence And Women Shouldn’t Go Hand In Hand

According to an Oxfam report, 35 percent of women have experienced violence at the hands of their current or former partners in their lifetime. And according to some national studies, this percentage can be as high as 70.

Around 650 million women alive today were victims of child marriage, and of those women, more than one in three got married before 15. 

Women and girls together account for 71 percent of human trafficking victims detected globally, with girls representing nearly three out of every four trafficked children.

Read more: Unexpected Ways In Which Climate Change Is Reshaping College Education

And as per a new research thesis published in BMJ Global Health which explores the connection between the climate crisis and domestic violence—highlighting cases of murder, coercive control, aggressive behaviour, forced early marriage and financial abuse, more than a third of perpetrators were current or ex-partners of the victims, while 15 per cent were relatives.

Many perpetrators believe that violence toward women and girls is a justified act, supported by society. They feel that they can commit violence for the satisfaction of their ego without any disapproval, and they have the right to do so.

The understanding behind this illogical reasoning can be explained as an accumulation of psychological and emotional stress indirectly caused by climate change—job loss, being displaced from your home, or experiencing general civil unrest. This, in turn, leads to higher levels of sexual violence at home.

Sexual violence is one of the most widespread violations of human rights and has long-term devastating effects on the lives of women, their communities and society at large.

Violence And Extraction Industries

In areas where extractive mining of fossil fuels or the construction of chemical plants take place, Indigenous communities are often at risk, more so at times, of violence from the sudden influx of mostly male transient workers. 

According to Amnesty International’s Out of Sight, Out of Mind 2016 report, “young men are statistically more likely to be perpetrators of violent crime”.

In 2018, the Urban Indian Health Institute (UIHI) conducted a survey, according to which, out of 5,712 missing American Indian and Alaska Native women and girls, only 116 were recorded in the US Department of Justice (DoJ) database. 

And according to the DoJ, 56 per cent of American Indian and Alaska Native women have experienced sexual violence and often (90 per cent) at the hands of a non-tribal member. 

Many perpetrators of these crimes belong from “man camps”, temporary communities created to house hundreds or thousands of pipeline construction workers, who often build structures in rural areas close to Indigenous communities.

This creates a deeply dangerous environment for Indigenous women, girls and native communities, says Ruth Hopkins, a Dakota/Lakota Sioux writer, lawyer and activist.

It’s Time To Say ‘Enough Is Enough’

For those who’ve experienced sexual violence, as an aftermath of environmental disaster and exploitation in their communities, healing has to happen on a community and individual level, often with a group with similar experiences, thereby providing a support network for women who have experienced sexual violence.  

“If available, western-style psychotherapeutic treatments may be helpful. But they are usually expensive and out of reach for the majority of survivors of sexual violence,” said Alison Phipps, UNESCO Chair, Refugee Integration through Languages and the Arts. 

While it’s incumbent that sexual violence needs to be addressed, we have to be careful about how we go about it.

Dr. Surie von Czechowski says that when we discuss this issue, sexual violence as an aftermath of natural disasters, we sometimes, “risk replicating colonial narratives about women and their oppression, rather than focusing on the structural factors that drive climate injustice”

Addressing the climate emergency also means raising our voice and fighting to end gender-based oppression and all forms of injustice that intersect with this for good. However, failing to do so will only result in more disaster. 

According to Delphine Pinault, Humanitarian Policy Advocacy Coordinator and UN Representative at climate change activists CARE, “preparation and response [to the climate crisis] must have women and girls at its heart. Women and girls are best placed to tackle the risks caused by the climate crisis and help their communities adapt. They must have a seat at the decision-making table, have their voices heard, and be supported to lead the response”.

Image credits: Google images

Sources: Vogue, Oxfam, WHO

Find the blogger at @sejalsejals38

This post is tagged under: Violence, Enough is enough, let’s stop violence against women, sexual violence, Sexual violence against women, UN, WHO, UNESCO, Amnesty International’s Out of Sight, Out of Mind 2016 report, marginalized social groups, Climate change, climate emergency, How climate change is affecting women, How climate change is impact women health and rights, human trafficking, child marriage, National Sexual Violence Resource Center, BMJ Global Health, climate crisis and domestic violence, murder, coercive control, aggressive behaviour, forced early marriage, financial abuse, Urban Indian Health Institute, stop violence against women, stop violence against marginalized social groups

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