Across the world, extreme weather events are fueling gender-based violence during and after disasters

  • In Science
  • 2022-06-13 23:21:56Z
  • By Business Insider
An unidentified woman holds a child while hurricane evacuees wait in line to enter the Super Dome in downtown New Orleans, Louisiana on August 28, 2005.
An unidentified woman holds a child while hurricane evacuees wait in line to enter the Super Dome in downtown New Orleans, Louisiana on August 28, 2005.  
  • Extreme weather events increase gender-based violence during and after disasters, a new analysis found.

  • Scientists say climate change is causing more severe weather events.

  • Researchers say future research should consider how sexual and other gender minorities are disproportionately impacted by climate change.

Across the world, the climate crisis has fueled more severe and frequent storms, heatwaves, droughts, and other dangers. A new study shines a light on how a warming world amplifies existing gender inequalities.

The visible toll of weather disasters, such as torn-down buildings and buckled roads, "can overshadow more veiled consequences, including gender-based violence experienced by women, girls, and sexual and gender minorities," Kim Van Daalen, a global public health expert at the University of Cambridge and lead author of a new analysis, told Insider.

In the analysis, published Monday in The Lancet Planetary Health, researchers looked at 41 existing peer-reviewed studies and found that gender-based violence - such as sexual assault, intimate partner violence, or trafficking, both during and after disasters - appears to be a recurring theme.

A growing body of research has found that climate change is causing extreme weather events, including tropical storms, droughts, wildfires, and floods, to become severe and more likely to occur. In the past two decades, the frequency of floods has increased by 134%, storms by 40%, and droughts by 29%, according to the research team.

"When we explore the overall impacts of climate change, we see that all genders experience climate change differently," Van Daalen told Insider. "As a result of gendered social roles and responsibilities, we tend to see that globally women and girls disproportionately suffer from increased climate change risks compared to men and boys." For instance, Van Daalen said the literature suggested women were less likely to be able to adapt after a natural disaster due to financial insecurity and little institutional support.

While researchers were not entirely surprised by the uptick in gender-based violence during and after extreme weather events, something they found interesting was that gender-based violence seemed to be a shared experience across the contexts they studied - from Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans to floods in Bangladesh to droughts in India.

A woman hangs clothes to dry in front of her house in a flooded area due to recent monsoon rainfalls in Dhamrai on August 11, 2020.
A woman hangs clothes to dry in front of her house in a flooded area due to recent monsoon rainfalls in Dhamrai on August 11, 2020.  

Extreme events may influence particular gender-based violence risks for individuals with diverse sexual and gender identities, according to researchers. "Due to their frequent marginalization, sexual and gender minorities are often more severely impacted by disasters," Van Daalen said, pointing to media reports at the time of Hurricane Katrina of a handful of religious figures blaming the New Orleans gay community for the storm. Van Daalen added that the team's research found a lack of documented evidence specific to sexual and gender minorities: "Future research should consider how this vulnerable population is disproportionately impacted as well."

Researchers hope the results from their analysis can be used to devise proper interventions before, during, and after disasters; some examples include providing post-disaster shelters and relief services - with their own toilets and bath areas - designed to be exclusively accessed by women, girls, and sexual or gender minorities or providing emergency response teams with training to prevent gender-based violence.

"By understanding the mechanisms through which extreme events may influence or affect gender-based violence, we can better inform the design and implementation of climate-resilient, context-specific, and sexual- and gender-responsive interventions that serve the needs of women, girls, and sexual and gender minorities globally," Van Daalen said. "Importantly, these interventions should be informed and, where possible, co-created by the affected communities."


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