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Social Injustice: Bodily Autonomy and the Climate Crisis

CW: This article discusses topics of abuse and sexual assault, which may be distressing to some readers.

“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.”

As far as social injustices go, the climate crisis affects everyone. As an umbrella term, social justice situates itself amongst fairness in healthcare, employment, housing, equality, and more. In order to achieve social justice, we require a shift in equity and accessibility. Without this, we cannot access climate justice. We need to reach a point wherein everybody has access to the same provisions and where fair participation can benefit everyone; otherwise, it shall remain a pipe dream.

New studies have shown that the rising frequency of extreme weather events, and their increasing severity, pose a risk to the amount of gender-based violence experienced by women, girls, and sexual and gender minorities. As quoted above, extreme events are not the direct cause of gender-based violence, but they can augment these behaviours. When economic instability, food insecurity, mental stress, and damaged infrastructure are at risk, the threat of domestic violence increases.

Photo by Kalea Morgan on Unsplash

Climate justice

Climate Justice can be defined as “…the fair treatment of all people and the freedom from discrimination in the creation of policies and projects that address climate change as well as the systems that create climate change and perpetuate discrimination."

The global climate crisis has been growing increasingly damaging for decades. But what people seem to forget is that it is just that – a global climate crisis. Ignoring the selfish behaviours of first-world countries, there are huge social concerns affecting both human and environmental justice - not every country has access to resources used for mitigation. Geographic locations, socio-economic development and governance are determiners in a countries’ handling of worsening weather events. In order to achieve any means of justice, developed countries and advanced communities must support those less advantaged to provide an equal effort that saves us all.

Bodily autonomy & gender-based violence

Body autonomy is the right for a person to govern what happens to their body without external influence or coercion … Statistics show that one out of every three females and one in every 20 males will fall victim to unwanted sexual contact by their 18th birthday.

Body autonomy aims to teach children to know that they are in control of their bodies. However, just being taught such a phenomenon can often not be enough in toxic relationships, abuse of power, and times of crisis. As defined by the UN Refugee Act :

Gender-based violence (GBV) refers to harmful acts directed at an individual based on their gender. It is rooted in gender inequality… and harmful norms. GBV is a serious violation of human rights and a life-threatening health and protection issue”.

Despite its high frequency (specifically in women and girls), not enough is being done to prevent GBV. In countries that frequently witness episodes of conflict, unjust governance, extreme weather events, collapsing markets and corrupt institutions, there is little focus on the injustice. Countries and wider communities suffering like this require help from more economically developed and socially advanced countries.

Worsening climate = worsening GBV

Recent research has investigated previous studies regarding the link between extreme weather events and violence against women, girls and minorities. As previously mentioned, the link is not direct; rather, this presumed rise in violence will eternalise itself through factors such as economic shock, social instability, and environmental stress.

The initial study showed that the perpetrators of violence ranged from partners to religious leaders, relief workers and government officials. It is shocking that the very people deployed to help aid the results of these extreme weather events are most likely to abuse their power.

”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.

Without the input and support from more advanced countries, we hinder our collective progress towards climate justice. Sustainable development goal (SDG) 16 – the promotion of just, peaceful, and inclusive societies – has a range of targets that support this. Targets 16.1 and 16.8 aim to “significantly reduce all forms of violence and related death rates everywhere” and “broaden and strengthen the participation of developing countries in the institutions of global governance”, respectively. SDGs are in place to bring social justice to the attention of the masses. So why are injustice, persecution, and abuse still so prevalent in society?

A focus must be placed on disaster management throughout the climate crisis, especially to combat the rise in GBV. To mitigate the circumstances, interventions such as post-disaster shelters, relief services, an understanding of local sexual and gender culture norms and traditions, and empowerment initiatives must be introduced. If we continue to ignore the fact that GBV will escalate alongside a worsening climate, then we remain complicit in the matter.


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