The threat of climate breakdown is already all around us. Extreme weather, from floods to hurricanes to heat waves, has increased in frequency and will continue to do so as the climate crisis unfolds. But not all communities are affected equally.
Work published in The Lancet Planetary Health shows that growing instability due to the disruption of the climate will likely increase episodes of violence against girls, cis straight women, and members of the LGBTQ+ community.
“Extreme events don’t themselves cause gender-based violence, but rather they exacerbate the drivers of violence or create environments that enable this type of behaviour,” lead author Kim van Daalen, a Gates Cambridge Scholar at the Department of Public Health and Primary Care, University of Cambridge, said in a statement.
“At the root of this behaviour are systematic social and patriarchal structures that enable and normalise such violence. Existing social roles and norms, combined with inequalities leading to marginalisation, discrimination, and dispossession make women, girls, and sexual and gender minorities disproportionately vulnerable to the adverse impacts of extreme events.”
Over the past two decades, the occurrence of floods has increased by 134 percent. Storm frequency has increased by 40 percent and droughts by 29 percent. Studies of past disasters, such as the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, provide a window into the kind of violence at-risk communities might experience following major disasters.
A study on the people internally displaced in Mississippi after Katrina, showed that sexual and intimate partner physical violence against women increase following the hurricane. The LGBTQ+ community was targeted in the aftermath of the disaster too. First, they were blamed for the hurricane, then same-sex couples were barred from getting relief funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. LGBTQI people experienced physical harm and violence in post-disaster shelters, and some trans individuals were even threatened and forbidden to access these places of alleged safety.
Another case study focused on Bangladesh and how an increase in early marriages goes hand in hand with devastating flooding. Marrying off daughters is seen as a way to reduce the “financial burden” on the family.
“Disaster management needs to focus on preventing, mitigating, and adapting to drivers of gender-based violence. It’s crucial that it’s informed by the women, girls, and sexual and gender minority populations affected and takes into account local sexual and gender cultures and local norms, traditions, and social attitudes,” van Daalen added.
Providing training to response teams and creating shelters that are safe spaces for the people most at risk are two possible interventions to minimize this risk. Work to challenge the root causes of this violence is paramount to stopping it from occurring in the first place, with or without the added factors of the climate breakdown.