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How gender-based violence affects environmental action | #IWD2024

By Tara Cooper & Sophia Cooke, EFN, 8th March 2024

You may be aware of the horrifying extent of violence experienced by women and girls, but perhaps you are less familiar with how this exists within the conservation, biodiversity and climate change sector. On #InternationalWomensDay, we felt it was very important to raise awareness of this issue and explore possible ways forward.

How does gender-based violence affect environmental action?

An article by The Nature Conservancy explores 3 ways gender-based violence impacts women and girls in an environmental context:

1. Climate change makes gender-based violence worse – consequences of climate change like drought, flooding, food insecurity have devastating impacts on communities and these impacts are often experienced much more by women and girls and indigeneous peoples.

2. Gender-based violence affects conservation programme design – for example designing conservation programmes that don’t consider the impact on women in their specific communities and context can harm rather help gender equality.

3. Environmental and conservation organizations experience gender-based violence – conservation organisations do not exist within a vacuum and therefore staff can (and do) experience gender-based violence.

A brilliant quote in the piece from Robyn James , Gender and Equity Director for TNC in Asia Pacific, summed it up: “It is not OK to prioritize saving a forest at the expense of the women and girls who depend on it.”

Tohono Indian Women led the Tucson 2019 Women’s March with a show of strength, resilience and power. Credit: Dulcey Lima/Unsplash
Tohono Indian Women led the Tucson 2019 Women’s March with a show of strength, resilience and power. Credit: Dulcey Lima/Unsplash

Similarly an explainer on ‘How ending gender violence will help deliver conservation goals’ by Carbon Brief , shared in a 2020 report that ‘59% of the women respondents had observed some form of violence while carrying out environmental projects’. 

They also note that ‘violence against women dedicated to biodiversity conservation is underreported’ and there is a gap with ‘the biodiversity and climate change sectors regarding the handling of gender-based violence’.

Much of this knowledge comes from an IUCN and the USAID 2020 report: Gender-based violence and the environment. They found ‘gender-based violence is used to assert control over natural resources and to diminish the efforts of those working towards a safe and healthy environment‘.

They also report how this can get worse with ‘women’s and girls’ involvement in activism and political demonstrations in defence of the environment increases’ and how gender-based violence is use as a tool again to assert control: ‘incidents of gender-based violence against environmental defenders as a tactic to intimidate and silence them.’

What can we do?

Clear resources and steps forward were outlined by IUCN’s, Gender-Based Violence and Environment Linkage Center. Their website shares research, tools, reports and specific initiatives and guides on tackling gender-based violence within specific climate, geographical and environmental contexts. We also liked the summary of their work here.

Examples of suggested actions include:

  • Advancing better legal protections
  • Embedding polices, standards and safeguards within environmental organisations to address gender-based violence
  • Partnering and investing in organisations already working on gender-based violence
  • Funders requiring charities to show gender analyses that accounts for gender-based violence to ensure these approaches are adopted

We also take inspiration from one of the members of our Climate Activist Speaker Fund, Estevan Marin Quintero. He works to mobilise men, youth and boys to eradicate gender-based violence and promote positive masculinities, particularly in contexts of biodiversity, climate change and humanitarian response.

A latino, brown-skinned man of medium height, wearing a black jumper with short, black hair stands into from of a green sign saying "2022 UN Biodiversity conference".
Estevan Marin Quintero, climate, gender & positive masculinities activist at COP15 / 2022 UN Biodiversity Conference.

He is a proud member of Fundación Barranquilla+20, a youth-led NGO championing generation equality and climate action. Barranquilla+20 and Estevan’s work is one example of grassroots organisations working at this intersection.

Follow Estevan and Barranquilla+20 on Instagram to stay up to date with their amazing work: We also loved Estevan speaking on the Loss & Damage podcast.

We know this short piece only touches on this incredibly important topic, but on #IWD we hope this reminds you that ending violence against women and girls is part of our work to stop climate change.

Thank you to our own Sophia Cooke, Environment Sector Programme Lead, for inspiring us to research and write this article. Her work on gender-based violence has explored the particular vulnerability of young people to gender-based violence and the importance of institutions supporting those in their network who experience it as well.

Comment below and share other resources, organisations and tools we should all know about.

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