On 25 September 2023, Centre Fellow Dr. Moumita Mandal hosted an interdisciplinary workshop on: The Role of Climate Change in Exacerbating Sexual and Gender-Based Violence against Women (SGBV).The workshop aimed at (i) identifying the cause-and-effect relationship between climate change and SGBV & the rise of eco-feminism (ii) answering how SGBV can end all over the world during the era of climate change (iii) whether gender should be included in legally binding instruments regarding environment & climate change (iv) and debating on how we can ensure the implementation of legally binding instruments at the global and national levels to end SGBV. The workshop corresponded to the research group of GCR21 ‘Legitimation and Delegitimation in Global Cooperation’ by studying the struggle over SGBV against women due to climate change and the importance of global cooperation. The ‘Legitimation and Delegitimation’ of GCR21 denotes that SGBV is legitimized by ignoring it. The specific climate change treaties do not address the issue directly.
The workshop was a platform to interact with scholars from multidisciplinary research who are working on climate change and SGBV. The panelists were from Nigeria (Dr. Chidiebere J. Onwutuebe), New Zealand (Erin Thomas), India (Prof. Dr. Bharat H. Desai), Spain & Brazil (Carolina Ferro Trigueiro de Sousa), Portugal (Ferlanda Luna), United Kingdom (Susan Ann Samuel), and Germany (Dr. Moumita Mandal). They have diverse backgrounds in international relations; development studies; international law; politics and international studies; law, finance and justice in the social state; and political economy. The panelists represented both academia as well as practitioners, including NGOs and international organizations.
Moumita's research focuses on International law and other laws but now she is engaged in 'climate change and SGBV' in international law. This workshop was an opportunity to interact with people from multidisciplinary research and share experiences and ideas with each other to find a global solution.
“I realized that the issue of climate-induced sexual and gender-based violence is not a problem for one single country. It is a global problem. We need to work together and form a global partnership to find a solution that would be practically implemented.”
Climate change has emerged as the predominant ‘world problematique’. Though entire populations are affected by climate change, women and girls suffer the most. As already seen, as a consequence of natural disasters and during Covid-19 pandemic, women faced heightened real-life challenges, especially being vulnerable to different forms of SGBV. Women are exposed to SGBV due to weak or the absence of social, economic, and political security as well as a culture of widespread impunity to the perpetrators. According to a report of 28 April 2022 by S&P Global, ‘climate change could see 4% of global annual economic output lost by 2050’. The IMF (2019) has estimated that climate change presents major threats to the long-term economic growth of the countries. In conditions driven by events such as pandemics, epidemics and climatic conditions, there is a heightened risk of violence against women. It is clear that SGBV due to climate change imposes double economic burden on States. Climate change and SGBV cause economic loss for states, societies, and families both individually and jointly. International law does not yield any international legal instrument that deals with SGBV against women during and after climate change-induced disasters. It is a new challenge for international law that needs to be duly addressed in a timely manner.
Though it was a challenge to coordinate and come to a joint conclusion, the workshop was a very enriching experience to share knowledge and ideas. The panelists discussed and highlighted that ecofeminism addresses the protection of ‘nature’ which means protection of ‘women’, which means protection of ‘human civilization’ and ‘earth’. Patriarchy is one of the reasons for SGBV. Culturally determined behaviour causes gender marginalization. Climate change effects on all but not equally. Women and girls suffer the most especially indigenous women, displaced women, and old and disabled women. There is a need to address gender issues in climate planning by the States. Empowerment of women can be a better solution for climate change.
The United Nations ‘Her City toolbox’ is working for the assessment, design, and implementation of cities to provide safe cities to women. There should be a bottom-up approach to solve the issue, of which education is one of the key components. Additonally, the media can play an important role in spreading awareness among people. Both men, women, and people of other genders should come together to find a solution to this issue and create a peaceful family, society, country, and world. The right to live with human dignity should be given priority for each individual even if she is a displaced woman due to climate change and not able to live safely in her country and staying in a host country. There is a need to balance individual, social, and collective interests. Human rights of all should be protected irrespective of any social identity. The empowerment of women, capacity building, and information sharing, monitoring legal implementation and protection of land should be given priority.
From the beginning, environment and climate change instruments have not been gender sensitive. In the past ‘gender’ was given a low-key treatment. As a consequence, there is a gap in the legal protection for women and SGBV. There is a need to change the legislative framework. So far. there is no international instrument on SGBV specifically. Even the Nagoya Protocol and other international environmental instruments e.g. the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Paris Agreement, etc. have gaps in addressing the issue of SGBV against women. There should be factor in ensuring that SGBV should be addressed in climate change law, human rights law, and other international, regional, and national legal instruments. Sometimes legal and political language overlaps, but ultimatelly both law and politics need work together. Solution-based research should be given priority.
“Thus, there is a need for specific international legal instruments on SGBV; full, effective and meaningful participation of women in all decision making; change of mindset; global partnership and global cooperation.”
Written by Moumita Mandal
Acknowledgment: Special thanks to Prof. Dr. Sigrid Quack, Dr. Nina Schneider, Julia Fleck, Prof. Dr. Lauren Eastwood, Martin Wolf and the entire family of Centre for Global Cooperation Research for the encouragement, support and cooperation.