Higher temperatures, rising sea levels and more extreme weather conditions: the climate crisis is hitting hard. Also in ways you wouldn’t expect.

A research team from the University of Cambridge analyzed 41 studies examining different types of extreme weather, such as storms, floods, droughts, heat waves and wildfires. They compared these data to reported cases of gender-based violence, including sexual assault and harassment, physical assault, witch hunts and murder, child and forced marriage, and psychological abuse.

More natural disasters
Between 2000 and 2019, approximately 4 billion people were affected by floods, droughts and storms. These disasters have claimed the lives of more than 300,000 people. Over the past twenty years, the number of floods has increased by 134 percent. Periods of drought (+29 percent) and storms (+40 percent) are also becoming more frequent. These figures are expected to rise further in the future as a result of climate change.

The number of natural disasters will only increase in the future. Source: John Foxx

More gender-based violence
The researchers found evidence that gender-based violence worsens during and after an extreme climate event. This is due to the negative impact on the economy, social instability, food insecurity and mental stress that the natural disaster brings.

Pressure on health care, the police and the judiciary can also leave victims of violence deprived of help and protection. This can lead to more physical harm, unwanted pregnancies, HIV infections or other sexually transmitted diseases, psychological problems and negative consequences for the children of victims of violence. The perpetrators are often partners or relatives of the victim, but they also refer to aid workers, government officials or religious leaders.

Gloomy picture of the future
The research paints a bleak picture for the future, as extreme weather events due to climate change are becoming more common around the world. “Extreme weather events do not themselves cause gender-based violence, but they do contribute to the violence or create an environment in which this type of behavior can flourish,” said Cambridge scientist Kim van Daalen. “At the heart of this behavior are deep-seated social and patriarchal structures that enable and normalize such violence. Girls, women and sexual minorities are especially vulnerable to the adverse effects of extreme weather events.”

The experience of gender-based violence can exacerbate vulnerability. For example, when victims in a disaster relief camp are faced with the threat of sexual violence or harassment, some withdraw and isolate themselves, others choose to go home even before it is safe. Many remain silent about the abuse or are silenced, especially in countries where protecting the honor and marriageability of a daughter and family is very important.

Hurricane Katrina and flooding in Bangladesh
Violence against women and girls increased in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina left a wave of destruction in 2005. In particular, the number of domestic and sexual assaults among IDPs rose sharply in the year following the disaster. In addition, the gay community in New Orleans was blamed for Hurricane Katrina. The disaster would be ‘God’s punishment’. Same-sex couples received no government assistance, transgender people were threatened in shelters or were not allowed to stay there. LGBTI people were victims of violence in the shelter. And research in Bangladesh shows a link between flooding and child marriage. Peaks in the number of child marriages coincide with the floods of 1998 and 2004. Because the natural disasters left the families destitute, parents feared that they would not be able to support their unmarried daughters. Marriage of underage daughters was one way to reduce the financial burden on the family.

Focus on targeted help
Van Daalen indicates that it is important to take vulnerable groups into account when providing assistance and shelter after a natural disaster. For example, there may be areas in a camp, including showers and toilets, that are only accessible to women and gender minorities. In addition, deploying emergency response teams that are specifically trained in the prevention of gender-based violence is a good option.

Hurricane Katrina left havoc in New Orleans. Source: ParkerDeen