Why women's rights matter at COP27

Why women’s rights matter at COP27

The world must take heed of the losses that women disproportionately experience, from education to safety, due to climate change.

This year has been a year of climatic disasters all over the world. From floods in Pakistan and Nigeria to the worst droughts on record in the Horn of Africa, no one on the planet is immune to our rapidly deteriorating climate. Among those most disproportionately affected are women and girls. Yet their story is too often just a footnote in the news.

We know the gendered impact of climate change from our work around the world. We have seen time and time again how women and girls are pressured to drop out of school or marry early to help manage the financial stress that families face during droughts or floods. New research from ActionAid in Kenya, Rwanda, Zambia and Nigeria has found that climate change is also increasing gender-based violence and harming women’s mental health.

As global warming leads to increased humanitarian emergencies and displacement, women and girls do not have to pay the highest price.

In northern Kenya, Rosemary – a former farmer with whom ActionAid works – now has to walk several kilometers further than before to find water. Her community is facing extreme drought after consecutive failed rains, with 90% of all open water sources in their area now dry. This increased load and the distances she has to travel put her at increased risk of violence as she has to travel, often outside daylight hours, into areas where she has no protection.

Meanwhile, drought and the invasion of a crop worm have already destroyed his farm, once his main source of income. This forced Rosemary to become an animal herder, but she also faces the challenges of an unpredictable climate here too. Unable to access water and grassland, two of his cows recently died, pushing him further into financial hardship.

Farmers’ incomes have dropped sharply in the community of Rosemary due to the lack of rain. This leads to girls being pulled out of school – and in some cases married off – to ease family expenses and help generate income. In times of precarious climate stress like this, girls are 20% more likely to be married off early than in times of stability, jeopardizing women’s rights to education and freedom.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Women and girls on the frontlines of the climate crisis, like Rosemary, know what action is needed and are important agents of change. Rosemary leads a local network of activists fighting violence against women and girls and advising young women on their human rights. This support is critical for women and girls facing the impacts of climate change and drought.

Women like Rosemary are able to build resilient communities in the face of the challenges of climate change. But they need support to scale up their work and the opportunity to help decide how international, national and local climate finance is spent.

Yet, sadly, we know that the voices of women on the front lines are not heard enough in the big halls and behind closed doors where big decisions are made, including at the ongoing COP27 climate change conference. This is particularly concerning in 2022 as the impacts of climate change intensify while international support for women like Rosemary remains scarce.

The industrialized countries that have contributed the most to the climate crisis have yet to deliver on their pledges of insufficient funding to help mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change in the future. These unfulfilled promises, combined with the lack of financing to support current climate impacts – known as loss and damage financing – mean the odds are high against a financing paradigm that takes into account the additional risks and consequences to which women and girls face.

While the UK is increasing its financial support for climate adaptation, it has failed to pledge new and additional funding for loss and damage to countries like Kenya, which is battling its worst drought on record.

This is unacceptable. Climate finance must cover reparations for girls’ lost years of education, address women’s loss of security, and compensate for their poor harvests. We need progress on these issues at COP27, not another year of kicking the box.

World leaders need to pay attention to stories like Rosemary’s. We need less rhetoric and more focus on women’s rights and actions to help them thrive and lift their communities out of poverty. Without it, the gender injustice of climate change and the silent crisis for women and girls will only get worse.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.

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