At a 21 March side event of the 66th Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW66), UN leaders, policy makers, and civil society activists highlighted the impacts of climate shocks and environmental hazards on women and girls in humanitarian settings.
The event, “Climate shocks exacerbating humanitarian crisis, insecurity and gender inequality - Voices from the Sahel and Afghanistan”, took place against the backdrop of ongoing violent extremism and displacement, heightening political instability, humanitarian crises, and roll backs of hard-won gains for gender equality in many regions of the world, with particular focus on the Sahel and Afghanistan.
Moderated by Grace Mbaiorga, a youth expert on disaster risk reduction from Nigeria, the discussion focused on the ways in which the climate crisis, conflict and gender inequality are connected to the detriment of the advancement of the Sustainable Development Goals and the gender equality agenda.
“The situation is especially acute in settings already experiencing conflict and humanitarian needs, Afghanistan and the Sahel being two of the most prominent examples,” said Selwin Hart, Special Advisor to the Secretary-General on Climate Action and Assistant Secretary General for the Climate Action Team, in his opening remarks, noting that disaster-related displacement has quadrupled since the 1970s and more than 800 million persons were undernourished in 2020, a number that has been aggravated due to the combined shocks of COVID-19 and the climate crisis.
“Conflict affects women, girls, boys and men differently, and the same is true for the impacts of climate change, yet women and girls and their needs continue to be excluded from policy decisions and the analysis that underpins them,” said Mr. Hart.
In the Sahel region, recurrent floods and droughts are aggravating food insecurity, increasing tensions, and fueling humanitarian crises. The situation has further deteriorated due to the COVID-19 pandemic; over 24 million people in the Sahel are currently in need of life-saving assistance and protection including 4.5 million displaced individuals. While the crisis is critical for all concerned communities, women and girls are disproportionately affected and have different and uneven levels of resilience and capacity to cope and recover.
Speaking to the ongoing situation in Northeast Nigeria, UN Women Executive Director Sima Bahous said, “Female-headed households who depend on farming to provide for their families often suffer the most. With limited permissible areas for farming, women who go to open fields for farming activities expose themselves to the risk of being raped, abducted or killed.”
Ms. Bahous added that, coupled with the shrinking of Lake Chad which has directly impacted fish production and degraded pasturelands, pastoralists have been forced to move southwards, deepening the deadly competition for land and water resources among farmers and herders, and increasing insecurity for women.
In Afghanistan, conflict, economic fallout, and gender inequality are further intensified by climate crisis, drought, and famine. Approximately half the country’s population (23 million people) are identified as acutely food insecure, with 8.7 million at risk of starvation, and the situation is expected to worsen as Afghanistan’s drought enters its second year. Since the fall of Kabul, Afghan women are already disproportionately bearing the brunt of the unfolding economic and human rights crisis.
Negina Yari, a Civil Society Activist and Executive Director of Afghans 4 Tomorrow (A4T) who joined directly from Kabul, highlighted a variety of gender inequality concerns within the country’s current context. “In most of the provinces, we are facing a lack of female aid workers, and women beneficiaries do not have equal access to humanitarian assistance,” said Ms. Yari, who advocated for the implementation of gender quotas within various aspects of the humanitarian system and women’s leadership in government and civil society.
Echoing Ms. Yari’s calls for increased participation of Afghan women in the humanitarian, government, and private sectors, Zuhal Atmar, an Afghan entrepreneur and environmentalist who founded the Mursal Charity Foundation and Women Leading Co, stated that, “We are respectfully asking the international community that, if there are discussions, if there is humanitarian aid, there should be conditions for compulsory contribution from women.”
In response to the vicious cycles of crisis discussed in the context of the Sahel and Afghanistan at this event, the resilience of women and girls affected by conflicts and climate crises must be strengthened and their full participation in addressing these issues ensured.