UN calls on countries to include women’s reproductive health in climate plans

By on 17/10/2023 | Updated on 17/10/2023
Photo by Gilbert Anthony via Pexels

Most countries’ climate plans do not include a commitment to protect the sexual and reproductive health of women and girls, a UN report has found.

The report from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) found that fewer than one third of the countries that have published climate plans – 38 of 119 – have taken access to contraception and maternal and newborn health into account in their adaptation plans, while only 15 reference gender-based violence.

Studies have repeatedly shown that women and girls are among the hardest hit by the climate emergency.

For example, rising temperatures have been linked to poorer maternal health and complications during pregnancy and menopause; extreme heat can trigger early deliveries and increase the risk of stillbirth; and weather events such as droughts can exacerbate gender-based violence and lead to an increase in child marriage, as struggling families seek to lessen their economic burden and marry off their daughters.

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Research published earlier this year by academics at Ohio State University in the US found that in years where a heatwave lasted a month or more, marriages of girls aged 11 to 14 in Bangladesh increased by half.

The UNFPA report also notes that women’s health facilities have been damaged by tropical cyclones and similar in regions like East Africa, for example, and that women and girls are disproportionately impacted by climate-crisis-driven food insecurity and malnutrition.

‘Climate crisis not gender neutral’

“The climate crisis is not gender neutral,” Dr. Natalia Kanem, UNFPA executive director said. “In those countries most at-risk, women and girls are disproportionately affected even though they have contributed the least to the global climate emergency.

“Highlighting emerging evidence of the impacts of climate change on the health and wellbeing of women and girls – from increased poverty and food insecurity to poorer maternal health outcomes to increased risk of gender-based violence and harmful practices – this review is a timely reminder of why it is so critical that countries prioritise sexual and reproductive health and rights in their climate strategies.”

Read more: UN says gender equality needed in climate change fight

Though the majority of countries to have published climate plans fall short of considering sexual and reproductive health and rights, the UN highlighted countries that have made “commendable progress”.

Paraguay has outlined the need to build climate-resilient health systems that can respond to extreme weather events; the Seychelles and Benin intend to improve maternal and newborn health outcomes; and nine countries – the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Sierra Leone, the Comoros, Seychelles, Costa Rica, Jordan, Tunisia and Guinea – have described policies or interventions designed to address a rise in violence against women in the context of climate change.

Among the 13 recommendations of the UN report, countries are called on to gather evidence on the impacts of climate change on sexual and reproductive health and violence against women and girls, integrate related policies and interventions across sectors, ensure inclusion and representation in the development and implementation of climate policy, and to strengthen health systems’ resilience to climate change.

The report was carried out in collaboration with Queen Mary University of London and the International Development Research Centre, Canada.

Read more: UN members see need for ramped-up progress on gender equality

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About Mia Hunt

Mia is a journalist and editor with a background in covering commercial property, having been market reports and supplements editor at trade title Property Week and deputy editor of Shopping Centre magazine, now known as Retail Destination. She has also undertaken freelance work for several publications including the preview magazine of international trade show, MAPIC, and TES Global (formerly the Times Educational Supplement) and has produced a white paper on energy efficiency in business for E.ON. Between 2014 and 2016, she was a member of the Revo Customer Experience Committee and an ACE Awards judge. Mia graduated from Kingston University with a first-class degree in journalism and was part of the team that produced The River newspaper, which won Publication of the Year at the Guardian Student Media Awards in 2010.

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