Environmental degradation can adversely impact girls and women as increasing competition over diminishing natural resources can result in higher rates of gender-based violence and exploitation. This is especially the case in developing nations with already limited resources, according to a new study by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
“Rooted in discriminatory gender norms and laws and shrouded in impunity, gender-based violence (GBV) occurs in all societies as a means of control, subjugation and exploitation that further reinforces gender inequality,” the authors of the study write. “While linkages between GBV and environmental issues are complex and multi-layered, these threats to human rights and healthy ecosystems are not insurmountable.”
For their study the researchers examined data and case studies from more than 1,000 sources and documents on the links between environmental pressures and gender-based violence. When natural resources are limited, exploitative social behaviors such as sexual abuse can become more dominant, especially affecting girls and women, they say.
“For instance, conflict over access to scarce resources can give rise to practices such as ‘sex-for-fish’, where fishermen refuse to sell fish to women if they do not engage in sex, which was seen to occur in parts of Eastern and Southern Africa,” the researchers observe. “As limited natural resources grow even scarcer due to climate change, women and girls must also walk further to collect food, water or firewood, which heightens their risk of being subjected to gender-based violence.”
When natural resources aren’t enough to go around, human trafficking, forced labor and other forms of exploitation all become more frequent. So do such illegal activities as wildlife poaching and illegal logging, which serve to further degrade the environment.
The authors cite other specific examples of gender-based exploitation, including rampant sex trafficking around illegal mines in some South American countries, sexual abuse and child labor in the illegal fishing industry in Southeast Asia, and sexual exploitation around illegal logging and charcoal trade in parts of Africa.
“Environmental crimes degrade ecosystems, and also often bring new, worsening patterns of violence against women, minorities and marginalised communities,” notes Jenny Springer, director of IUCN’s Global Program on Governance and Rights. “Many Indigenous women in particular face gender-based and other violence as their communities act to defend their territories, resources and rights from such illegal activities.”
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