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Climate Change and Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) Refuting Dubious Linkages: Affirming Rights


Climate Change and Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH)Refuting Dubious Linkages: Affirming Rights. By. Jael Silliman (Ed.D) 5/3/2012 – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Climate Change and Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) Refuting Dubious Linkages: Affirming Rights

Climate Change and Sexual and Reproductive Health
(SRH)Refuting Dubious Linkages Affirming Rights
  • By
  • Jael Silliman (Ed.D)

What is Climate Change?
  • Climate change refers to the increasingly erratic
    weather patterns, rising sea levels and extreme
    events that may be attributed to human activity
    and the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that have
    created global warming. It is often viewed as a
    purely environmental phenomenon, requiring
    scientific/ technological interventions
  • Climate change is essentially a social, economic
    and political issue with profound implications
    for social justice and gender equality.

What is Climate Change?
  • CC exacerbates existing inequalities and
    vulnerabilities in society
  • As has been underlined in the HDR 2007 CC
    threatens to erode human freedoms and limit
  • CC impacts are not gender neutral

  • Mitigation refers to human interventions to
    reduce the sources or enhance the sinks of GHGs.
    Examples include using fossil fuels more
    efficiently for industrial processes or
    electricity generation, switching to solar energy
    or wind power, improving the insulation of
    buildings, and expanding forests and other
    sinks to remove greater amounts of CO2 from the
    atmosphere (UNFCCC website).

  • Adaptation Actions taken to help communities and
    ecosystems cope with changing climate conditions,
    such as the construction of flood walls to
    protect property from stronger storms and heavier
    precipitation, or the planting of agricultural
    crops and trees more suited to warmer
    temperatures and drier soil conditions (UNFCCC

Climate Change SRH
  • The links between SRH and Climate Change (CC) are
    always indirect.
  • There is a body of literature that seeks to make
    a direct and simplistic connection between CC and
    population growth.
  • The logic is More People Increase in Green
    House Gases (GHGs) leads to CC

Climate Change Population
  • Based on this simplistic equation, an easy way
    to therefore reduce CC is to reduce population
  • For example, at the United Nations Climate Change
    Conference in Copenhagen, the Optimal Population
    Trust claimed Contraceptives are the greenest
  • President Zhou promoted the environmental
    benefits of Chinas draconian family planning
    policy400 million fewer births results in 18
    million fewer tons of carbon dioxide (CO2)
    emissions a year.

  • Feminist advocates have noticed a disturbing
    return to neo-Malthusian arguments linking
    population with the food and climate crises in
    the Zero Draft for Rio20 where some UN agencies
    claim early stabilization of world population
    would make a crucial contribution to realizing
    sustainable development.
  • Demographers claim that slowing population
    growth, makes many environmental problems easier
    to solve and development easier to achieve.
    These arguments represent a serious regression
    from the Rio, Cairo and Beijing agendas.
  • Rio20 must be clear that policy responses to
    population reaffirm the Cairo principles to
    prioritize womens and girls sexual and
    reproductive rights and health in the context of
    fulfilling sustainable livelihoods, meeting basic
    needs, protecting their rights, and creating an
    enabling environment for their empowerment,
    leadership and political participation.

  • What the simplistic equation, more population
    more GHGs, does not take into account is that all
    people do not have the same levels of consumption
    and carbon footprints among varied populations
    differ considerably.
  • Thus reducing the fertility of poor women, the
    target of a lot of population control programs,
    whose carbon footprint is very small, would not
    necessarily lead to decreases in GHG emissions.
  • A much more direct way to decrease GHGs would be
    by reducing consumption, particularly of those
    whose GHG emissions is much greater.

  • One-sixth of the worlds population lives in
    countries with extremely low rates of
    consumption, including energy consumption. These
    countries are also countries with higher rates of
    population growth and hence are the target of
    population control advocates. They argue that it
    is the large and growing populations of these
    countries that threaten climate change.

  • A narrow focus on reducing birth rates ignores
    the other demographic factors that are part of
    the population-climate change equation.
  • For example, urbanisation trends, immigration
    patterns and, perhaps most importantly, per
    capita resource consumption, all interact with
    population size to affect the environment.
  • From a demographic perspective, it makes no
    sense to single out only one factorbirth
    ratesas the problem and the solution. Indeed,
    the other demographic forces may eclipse birth
    rates as the drivers of environmental decline.
    Climate change strategies that do not address
    these other factors are doomed to be ineffective.

  • Climate justice advocates insist that equitable
    climate change strategies should not displace
    responsibility for carbon emissions upon those
    least responsible for them. According to the UN
    Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC),
    the largest emissions of greenhouse gases (both
    historical and current) originate in developed
  • Industrialised countries with 20 of the worlds
    population are responsible for 80 of the
    accumulated carbon build-up in the atmosphere.
  • By contrast, per capita emissions in developing
    countries are low. For instance, according to the
    International Energy Agency Report (2009), in
    2007, US per capita emission was 19.10 tons of
    CO2 per person, compared to 0.25 tons of CO2 per
    person in Bangladesh. In parts of the developing
    world such as sub-Saharan Africa, where
    population growth rates are high, CO2 emission
    rates are very low.
  • Due to their low level consumption, the impact
    on climate is negligible.

  • A Fair Share Level (FSL) Approach to Climate
    Control integrates equity and consumption
    considerations. A particular global average of
    emissions per person is determined.
  • Countries mired in energy poverty are
    differentiated from those living above that
  • FSL strives to move people out of energy poverty
    while addressing the consumption of high level
    consumers, advocating for convenient fuels and
    greater access to electricity.

  • As a matter of human rights, womens right to
    control their own fertility should not be
    sacrificed to protect the environment. Nor is
    that sacrifice necessary.
  • Cutting CO2 emissions through new energy saving
    technologies and changed consumption patterns
    would do a great deal more to protect the
  • For example, increased public transport,
    fuel-efficient cars and a reduction in the number
    of automobiles would have a greater, more
    immediate impact on reducing climate change than
    reducing birth rates, especially the birth rates
    of the lowest level consumers.

  • Womens bodies should not be the vehicle for
    climate change solutions, but concern for the
    impact of climate change on women should prompt
    effective as well as rights- respecting efforts
    to control greenhouse gas emissions (GHGE).

The Good News
  • United Nations has refused to link population
    control and Climate Change in the Copenhagen
    Accord. The academic and policy literature on
    gender and climate change, also does not consider
    population control and lower fertility rates as
    an appropriate mitigation strategy to deal with
  • Rather, there is a clear recognition that undue
    emphasis on population reduction to address CC
    would jeopardize decades of work to advance
    multi-faceted rights respecting, environmentally
    sound and equitable development models.

Addressing demographic concerns in the context of
  • The National Adaptation Plans of Actions (NAPAs)
    that are drawn up by countries to address CC are
    the appropriate place to consider legitimate
    demographic concerns. Many NAPAS include greater
    access to family planning as a part of an agenda
    for adaptation while prioritizing the welfare of
    poor communities affected by climate change.

  • There is a concern that an over emphasis on
    population stabilization to reduce CC could
    backfire and reduce the donor funds needed to
    appropriately address family planning. Donor
    countries are obliged to contribute to programs
    and policies to address climate change.

  • If family planning, for which they already make
    funds available, is considered a key strategy to
    reduce carbon emissions, they could shift their
    funds for family planning as their contribution
    towards this effort. In this way, other much
    needed efforts to reduce carbon emissions would
    be left unfunded by donor countries

Climate Change Exacerbates Inequalities
including gender inequalities
  • The United Nations Human Rights Council
    Resolution 10/4 of 25 March, 2009 notes that the
    effects of CC will be felt most acutely by those
    segments of the population that are already
    vulnerable owing to geography, gender, age,
    indigenous or minority status and disability.

  • Climate change will compound existing poverty.
    Its adverse impacts will be most striking in the
    developing nations because of their geographical
    and climatic conditions, their high dependence on
    natural resources, and their limited capacity to
    adapt to a changing climate.
  • Within these countries, the poorest, who have the
    least resources and the least capacity to adapt,
    are the most vulnerable.
  • Projected changes in the incidence, frequency,
    intensity, and duration of climate extremes (for
    example, heat waves, heavy precipitation, and
    drought), as well as more gradual changes in the
    average climate, will notably threaten their
    livelihood further increasing inequities between
    the developing and developed worlds.
  • Climate change is therefore a serious threat to
    poverty eradication. However, current development
    strategies tend to overlook climate change risks

Asia-Pacific Region Vulnerable to Climate Change
  • The Asia-Pacific encompasses some of the worlds
    most vulnerable regions such as
  • the Ganges/Brahmaputra valleys, Bangladesh and
    the Maldives and the Marshall Islands and Tuvalu.
    The region is home to many small island states,
    features arid and high mountain zones and densely
    populated coastal areas that are considered
    particularly vulnerable to CC. Rising sea levels
    are a particular threat to islands that are risk
    being submerged. Increasing deforestation is
    another cause of CC and the region is home to
    many tropical and temperate forests. For
    example, Indonesia lost 28 million hectares of
    forest due to logging. Nepal and parts of
    Northern India and Pakistan have also lost a
    great deal of forest cover. They have
    experienced landslides and Pakistan has already
    been confronted with heavy flooding and unusual
    weather patterns.

Asia Region and Inequalities
  • The Asia Pacific region is also characterized by
    gender inequality and the low status of women.
    Climate change will exacerbate these
    inequalities. The region is also home to many
    indigenous peoples who will also be made more
    vulnerable by CC especially because of their
    greater dependence on forests and other natural
    resources to meet their subsistence and
    livelihood needs. The region is already home to
    climate change refugees, also known as climate
    change forced migrants, who have to shift to
    other places to meet their livelihood needs.

Key Sectors Impacted by CC
  • Agriculture and Food Security
  • Energy
  • Water
  • Forests
  • Women are key providers of food, fuel, and water
    and are positioned to address resource
  • They are leaders in environmental struggles and
    important for fashioning locally appropriate and
    viable solutions to Climate Change.

  • As the literature on gender and development has
    teased out these impacts on women they are now
    calling for womens particular vulnerabilities in
    each of these sectors needs to be addressed.
    They are also underlining womens roles as
    leaders in efforts to combat CC. The research
    has also underlined the broader implications of
    CC and environmental degradation on social
    sectors such as health and education.
  • This paper does not reiterate the impact of CC on
    women, but treats womens SRH as a subsector of
    womens health. It extends the work on gender
    and CC to spotlight the impacts on SRH.

Spotlighting SRH in each Sector to determine how
best to safeguard the SRH of women and girls in
the context of CC
Agriculture and Food Security
  • Climate change is predicted to reduce crop yields
    and food production in some regions, especially
    the tropics.
  • The shrinking of agricultural resources and lands
    will have a very negative impact on womens
    access to this important resource that provides
    food for their families.
  • In the Asia region women are responsible for 56
    of household food production.

  • The loss of land productivity that could result
    as a result of climate change would lead to a
    fall in crop yields and a corresponding rise in
    food prices. This would make pregnant women
    particularly vulnerable and can affect maternal
    health. It could lead to low birth weight babies
    and to higher risks of child mortality. Without
    adequate adaptation, the International Food
    Policy Research Institute estimates that by 2050
    there could be an additional 25 million
    malnourished children

  • Important thus to address the social and cultural
    factors that lead to differential access to food
    , especially in the Asia region that would only
    be exacerbated during times of food shortage and
    price rise.
  • Lack of food and poor nutrition is especially
    critical in the context of pregnant and lactating
    mothers and can lead to child malnutrition. Thus
    food security is a critical component of womens
    SRH and is also important as food security
    provides the basis for women to be able to
    exercise their right to have children. Food
    security is an enabling condition for meeting
    womens SRH.

  • Climate Change dries up water resources reducing
    the drinking water available. This leaves the
    poor more dependent on less reliable sources of
    water. Poor quality H2O, leads to an increase in
    vectors and to more favorable conditions for
    spreading viruses associated with temperature and
  • Pregnant women are more susceptible to water
    borne diseases and malaria. Malaria leads to
    anemia which is responsible for one quarter more
    increases in maternal mortality .

  • As water resources also become more unreliable
    and erratic as a result of climate change, women
    have to walk further to fulfill their household
    water needs. Going further distances for water
    collection poses a risk factor for girls and
    women as their vulnerability to sexual assault
    and harassment increases. This is even more so
    in areas of conflict.
  • Given the high density of conflict zones in the
    Asia Pacific region, this is a particular SRH

  • The Asia Pacific region is rich in forest cover
    and large sectors of the population depend on
    forest resources, especially indigenous peoples.
  • Climate change also has very negative impacts on
    natural resources and the accessibility of the
    vulnerable to them

  • Women are the primary users of household energy.
    As the availability of traditional fuel sources
    and energies becomes increasingly commoditized,
    scarce, and expensive the feminization of poverty
    is exacerbated. As women venture further way
    from their homes, women are more vulnerable to
    sexual harassment which can greatly impact their

  • There is also evidence that longer walks with
    heavy loads have a negative health impact on
    women and in Uttaranchal, the heavy loads carried
    over long distances in search of firewood has led
    to 30 higher rates of miscarriages compared with
    national averages

  • The loss of medicinal plants to treat ailments
    that are found in forests would particularly
    affect resource poor women who rely on these
    plants for various treatments. Many of these
    plants are used to treat the SRH issues of women
    and girls

Climate Induced Disasters
  • The Asia Pacific region is one of the most
    disaster prone regions in the world (World
    Disaster Report, 2009. )
  • Along with CC comes increasing exposure to
    disasters- floods, tsunamis, and heat waves.

  • Several studies indicate that disaster mortality
    is higher for women because of differences in
    vulnerability. For example, following the 2004
    Asian Tsunami, Oxfam found that in many villages
    in Aceh, and in parts of India, females accounted
    for 70 of the dead. In the 1991 Bangladesh
    cyclone that killed 140,000 people, 90 were
    women and girls

  • There is a high incidence of mortality among
    mothers during disasters and an increase in
    infant mortality. There is a lack of access to
    essential services after disaster, especially
    Family planning and SRH services, which results
    in higher risks of mortality among pregnant
  • Women and girls are more sexually vulnerable in
    times of natural disasters as the protection they
    have from their partners and families is in
    disarray. Post disasters there is an increase in
    girls getting married at an early age, school
    drop out, sexual harassment, trafficking and
    prostitution, and more risk of transmission of
  • Violence against women, both from intimate
    partners and unknown men, rise after disasters

  • As a result of the impacts of CC on natural
    resources and due to displacements as a result of
    disasters, there are increasing climate induced
    migrants and climate refugees often find
    themselves in unsafe circumstances where they are
    vulnerable to sexual harassment

Programs Underway
  • There are several programs underway globally and
    in the Asia-Pacific region that enable women to
    better adapt to CC. These programs are small in
    scale and scattered. None of them directly deal
    with issues of SRH but indirectly address some of
    the issues associated with CC that has an impact
    on womens SRH.

Recommendations to promote and protect SRH in the
context of Climate Change
  • Research Develop the evidence base regarding
    both the direct and indirect linkages between CC
    and SRH

  • Incorporate issues of SRH in the National Plans
    of Action (NAPAS). The NAPAS should include
    greater access to rights-based family planning
    that prioritizes the welfare of poor communities
    affected by CC

  • Increase investment in Rights Based Family
    Planning Services
  • Family planning should be made more available to
    enable communities to adapt to the harmful
    effects of CC
  • Ensure that disaster relief resources,
    strategies, and tools include and address SRH

  • Identify the key policy, resource, and
    institutional gaps to ensure that issues of SRH
    and CC are a priority in the future
  • Support civil society interventions that empower
    women to hold governments accountable for the
    types of policies they develop and to ensure that
    mitigation and adaptation strategies address and
    include the SRH needs of women

  • Advocate for greater collaboration between
    development, environment, health and womens
    organizations at national and international
  • Respond to gendered vulnerabilities and support
    womens leadership in CC responses and CC
    adaptation strategies

Some further questions for discussions
  • What are other recommendations that we could
    collectively think about to ensure that there is
    greater attention to the SRH of women and girls
    in the literature and future policy advocacy to
    advance womens rights in the CC arena?

  • Do you know of programs in the Asia Pacific
    Region that address issues of CC and SRH ?

  • Thank you and once again my sincere apologies for
    not being able to be here to learn from you.