Gender equality and women’s empowerment today for a more sustainable tomorrow

March 10, 2022 | 10:03
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As governments look to implement policies to build a brighter future, the effects that climate change have on women’s health and rights cannot be ignored.
Gender equality and women’s empowerment today for a more sustainable tomorrow
Björn Andersson, Asia-Pacific regional director, United Nations Population Fund

Climate change is a multiplier of pre-existing vulnerabilities, including gender inequality, often resulting in negative impacts for women and girls.

Between 2010 and 2020, Asia-Pacific accounted for three-quarters of the over 120 million people that were affected by disasters. Being the most disaster-prone region in the world, focus must be placed on the disproportionate effects of climate change on female members of society.

Gender-based violence and other harmful practices, including child marriage and female genital mutilation, increase among climate-affected populations.

Climate-related emergencies cause major disruptions in terms of access to essential services, life-saving medicines, and healthcare, contributing to a higher risk of maternal and newborn deaths.

Forty-three-year-old Adelina from Dinagat in the Philippines illustrates how climate change affects women as they seek maternity care. Adelina was pregnant with her sixth child when the recent super typhoon Odette made landfall, badly damaging the nearest medical unit and leaving her with no choice but to take a difficult two-hour boat ride to give birth in a hospital in a neighbouring city.

All stakeholders play a critical role in ensuring that climate adaptation, disaster preparedness, and early recovery efforts are climate-resilient and more inclusive. This will ensure that women have access to facilities and information, including maternity care, family planning, and protection services. This will empower them to protect their rights and make choices, strengthening affected communities’ ability to adapt.

During the Fourth World Conference held in Beijing in 1995, the global community agreed to promote a visible policy of gender equality. More than 25 years later, progress towards achieving women’s empowerment has been slow.

For this reason, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and its partners are stepping up their efforts to reverse this worrying trend. The clear target is to achieve universal access to sexual and reproductive healthcare at every level and to protect the rights of all.

As women remain on the frontlines of the pandemic and climate crisis, whether as health professionals, community leaders, educators, or unpaid care providers, there is an urgent need to build their resilience at all levels in every society.

When floods hit the Rohingya refugee camps last year in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, midwife Shakila Parvin was quick to deliver vital healthcare. She also provided mental support for families, reassuring them after emergency deliveries.

The 1994 International Conference on Population and Development called for making the rights of women and their sexual health a central topic in national and international development efforts. Yet, while it is essential to achieve bodily autonomy for all people, only 55 per cent of girls and women aged 15-49 who are married or in unions say that they can make their own decisions about their reproductive health, contraception, and their own sexual practices.

In order to ensure a better and more sustainable future for all, it is of critical importance to accelerate changes through maternal healthcare and family planning services. Organisations, policies, and feminist and youth networks must all be strengthened to promote these issues, especially in the context of climate change.

To facilitate this, UNFPA is working to deliver a world where women can lead in ensuring a sustainable future. On the occasion of International Women’s Day, it calls on all governments to join its efforts and invest in achieving universal access to sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights.

The meaningful participation of women and girls in climate action must be ensured by sharing power with excluded groups and individuals and promoting gender parity in all decision-making spaces.

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