Civil society organizations from Asia-Pacific explore ways to address gender-based violence fueled by climate change


Key takeaways from the learning exchange illustrated by Tofu Creatives/Desiree Llanos Dee
Key takeaways from the learning exchange illustrated by Tofu Creatives/Desiree Llanos Dee

Civil society organizations from across Asia and the Pacific joined an online dialogue to discuss how climate change puts women at greater risk of gender-based violence (GBV) and to explore potential ways to address the issue. 

According to a brief by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and UN Women, the risks of violence against women and girls increase due to displacement, resource scarcity, and disruption to service provision to survivors caused by climate change and slow environmental degradation. 

IUCN also reports that during prolonged drought, child marriage is used by families as a strategy to cope with scarcity of food and income. 

Moreover, a recent UN Women report found that women are more likely to use online search engines to seek violence-related help when climate-induced crises overlap, signaling that intimate partner violence may worsen during those times. 

Meanwhile, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) noted that environmental human rights defenders experience threats and violence as they strive to defend natural resources and their territories. Indigenous peoples, women and other vulnerable groups are often the most likely victims. 

With emerging evidence suggesting links between climate change-related events and increased incidence of GBV, UN Women, UNEP and IUCN brought together local and international CSOs working on the nexus of climate change and gender-based violence for an online learning exchange on 29 September 2023. The event was organized under the Generation Equality Forum (GEF) Action Coalitions on Gender-Based Violence (GBV AC) and Feminist Action for Climate Justice (FACJ AC). 

Speaking at the online event, Lipi Rahman, Executive Director of Bangladesh-based women’s rights organization Badabon Sangho, shared impressions about her field experience and how she noticed a notable trend of internal labour migration, especially among men, due to the impacts of climate change: “Women are left to care for the children. Many times, men do not return, leaving women and children vulnerable to abuse, both from within and outside the family.” She also emphasized that the lack of job opportunities for these women exacerbates the issue. 

While acknowledging that women are often disproportionately affected by climate change and GBV, it is essential to recognize that they also play critical roles as leaders, change agents and champions of resilience driving transformative solutions. 

Onn Chansreyleak, Communications Officer at the Regional Community Forestry Training Centre for Asia and the Pacific (RECOFTC), and Dr. Trang Nguyen, Director at WildAct, shared their experiences from programmes addressing gender-based violence and climate and environmental linkages under the Resilient, Inclusive and Sustainable Environments (RISE) grants challenge.

Chansreyleak stressed that women are vital in sustainable forest management: “Women have even been shown to be more efficient managers of resources.” However, they are often subject to harassment, psychological stress and abuse​, which effectively discourages women from engaging in sustainable forestry roles that are key for both climate mitigation and adaptation efforts​. “When they engage in this sector, they have to be protected,” she added. 

Dr. Nguyen shared a similar example of women in the conservation sector experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace. “How can we, who work and lead environmental work, encourage young women to join male-dominated sectors where they are at risk of sexual harassment and violence without helping to create safer conditions? Our efforts to do so need to be a priority.” 

Sneha Kaul, Statistics Analyst at UN Women, shared findings of a recent big data analysis, emphasizing that GBV victims were using online platforms to seek help, and that while service providers are reaching victims on social media, many must change their outreach strategies. These could include making their contact information readily available on posts, providing clear information on available resources for victims and posting about counseling and crisis support, all while fostering a sentiment of community, affiliation, and positivity.  

The participants collectively identified key messages that policymakers need to prioritize to effectively prevent and respond to GBV in the context of climate change. The key messages will be taken forward by the organizers to facilitate collaborative advocacy and policy influencing at every level while nurturing movements that recognize the intricate links between GBV and the climate crisis. These efforts are aimed at supporting evidence-based decision-making, including initiatives to secure additional financing to prevent and respond to GBV among women and communities most vulnerable to the impacts of the climate crisis.   

UN Women, UNEP, and IUCN implement programmes that, in various ways, address the intersection between climate change and gender-based violence. This webinar, a part of this endeavor, was supported by the Governments of Australia, New Zealand, Sweden and the United States of America. 

The support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is provided through a partnership with IUCN on the “Advancing Gender in the Environment” (AGENT) programme, which envisions a world that approaches environmental work at all levels with gender-responsive policy and action. AGENT houses the Gender-Based Violence and Environment Linkages Center (GBV-ENV Center) as well as the Resilient, Inclusive and Sustainable Environments (RISE) grants challenge to address gender-based violence and environment and climate linkages in environmental programming. 

The support from the Government of Australia is provided through the “Ending Violence against Women” programme that aims to ensure the quality of services for survivors of violence, strengthen practice through the roll-out of Prevention Frameworks, and bolster support to women’s organizations through the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women. 

The support from the Government of Sweden and New Zealand is provided through the EmPower: Women for Climate-Resilient Societies (EmPower) programme. Jointly implemented by UN Women and UNEP, EmPower is dedicated to empowering women and other marginalized and vulnerable communities to take the lead in building resilient communities. 

For more information on the Ending Violence Against Women (EVAW) Programme: 

Ozlem Hangul
EVAW Coordination Consultant
[ Click to reveal ]  

For more information on the EmPower Programme: 

Athena Galao 
Programme Coordinator at UN Women Asia and the Pacific 
[ Click to reveal ] 

Parimita Mohanty 
Programme Management Officer at UNEP Asia and the Pacific 
[ Click to reveal ] 

For more information on the AGENT, GBV-ENV Center and RISE: 

Jamie Wen-Besson 
Senior Gender Programme Manager at IUCN