New report finds climate breakdown increases gender-based violence against women environmental human rights defenders

Published by Brent Patterson on

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“Let us wake up! We’re out of time. We must shake our conscience free of the rapacious capitalism, racism and patriarchy that will only assure our own self-destruction.” – COPINH leader Berta Caceres, WEHRD killed on March 3, 2016.

The Guardian reports that a major study by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has found that “climate breakdown and the global crisis of environmental degradation are increasing violence against women and girls.”

Cate Owren, a lead author of the report and based in the IUCN’s Global Gender Office, says, “We found gender-based violence to be pervasive, and there is enough clear evidence to suggest that climate change is increasing gender-based violence.”

The article highlights, “Six in 10 respondents to a survey by IUCN, with more than 300 responses from organisations around the world, said they had observed gender-based violence among female environmental rights defenders, environmental migrants and refugees, and in areas where environmental crimes and environmental degradation were taking place.”

“There have also been numerous examples of gender-based violence directed against environmental defenders and activists, who try to stop the destruction or degradation of their land, natural resources and communities. Sexual violence is used to suppress them, undermine their status within the community and discourage others from coming forward.”

The full report is titled Gender-based violence and environment linkages: The violence of inequality. Chapter 6, titled Gender-based violence in defending land, territories and the environment – The situation of women environmental human rights defenders, can be found on pages 162 to 180.

That chapter begins by setting this context: “Globally, there exists a historic struggle in defence of the environment, one in which women and indigenous peoples have been fundamental actors against the privatisation and destruction of natural resources such as land, forests and forest resources, and water.”

It continues, “Violence against WEHRDs in the public and private sector is interlinked with and rooted in social, economic and political power relations, including gender discrimination, an unequal division of labour, and pre-existing levels of violence.”

“WEHRDs thus endure gender-differentiated violence, whether as users and managers of natural resources, as victims of abuse by state or non-state actors, or as journalists, lawyers, educators, indigenous leaders or everyday citizens concerned over the degradation of the environment and natural resources.”

“In many parts of the world, human rights defenders are marginalised and discriminated against and are criminalised for their actions, and that impunity for state and nonstate actors in violation of EHRDs’ rights is commonplace.”

“Violence against EHRDs is typically found within a context of heightened resource scarcity: each year, industries and governments are placing increasing pressure on natural resources as countries and corporations seek financial gain.”

“The pressure for both profits and more resources has led to a rise in extractive activities, as well as a rise in environmental crime. The violence and intimidation employed to exert control over individuals’ and local communities’ territories and natural resources can also instigate, magnify and reinforce incidences of GBV.”

“Statistics provided by the Mesoamerican Women Human Rights Defenders Initiative (IM-Defensoras) found that a total of 609 aggressions against WEHRDs were recorded between 2015 and 2016 in Mexico and Central America alone. In this same region, between 2012 and 2016, at least 42 WEHRDs were killed.”

“The GBV experienced by WEHRDs can often be exacerbated when it intersects with racial and ethnic discrimination. In Guatemala, indigenous communities, which make up 60 per cent of the national population, often find themselves in defence of their territories against extractive interests. The country has also experienced a startling rise in GBV, particularly against indigenous women.”

Additionally, The Guardian article reports, “Some governments are moving to put action for women and girls into their climate and development policies, and the UN in Madrid moved to include a gender action plan as part of the climate negotiations. Campaigners and some countries are hoping for even greater focus on the issue at the crunch UN climate talks in November, to be hosted by the UK in Glasgow.”

The United Nations COP26 climate talks will take place between Monday November 9 and Thursday November 19. Peace Brigades International is currently discussing how to intervene at COP26 to highlight that human rights defenders are on the front lines of the struggle against climate change and the specific risks faced by WEHRDs.

For more, please see Fighting climate change: A global priority and  To avoid climate breakdown, we must protect those who protect the environment by Peace Brigades International. Please also see the PBI-Guatemala Project article ‘Communities raise their voices about the climate crisis’ in Bulletin No. 42 (pages 10-13).

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