University College Utrecht June 24, 2023
Climate change will continue to cause extreme weather conditions even with mitigation strategies applied. Extreme weather conditions are likely to heavily affect the parts of the world that do not contribute intensively to the climate crisis including the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region, that is occasionally hit by droughts, wildfires, and floods causing humanitarian crisis (World Food Program, 2021). In cases of a humanitarian crisis, those most affected are minorities, people of lower socioeconomic classes, women, adolescent girls, and children.
This article examines how climate change can impact sexual and reproductive health (SRH) and the strategies that should be implemented to mitigate these effects. The article zooms in on the role that young people can have in strategies against the effects of climate change on SRH, and how their participation in mitigation and adaptation strategies can be stimulated and encouraged.
According to the United Nations (2023) climate change refers to long-term shifts in temperatures and weather patterns that causes an increase in extreme weather events. When there are earthquakes, tsunamis, large fires, droughts or floods, access to basic rights such as adequate healthcare, access to schools, economic welfare, access to clean water and food all decrease and become scarce.
In times of crisis, minority communities who struggle socio-economically are deeply affected as they have less of an economic or social buffer to bounce back on when extreme weather events occur. Occasionally, women in such communities are left with no option but to quit school and take care of the family while men take on more work responsibilities worsening the already existing gender inequality. Gender inequality leaves women more exposed to Gender-Based Violence (GBV).
The financial burden following extreme weather conditions may cause families to work both at home and outside for longer than is healthy in desperation for more money. Families end up marrying off young girls for financial compensation, feeding to the ever-increasing high rates of child marriages and teen pregnancies (UNFPA ESARO, 2022). Teen pregnancies, among extreme weather events, put mothers at higher risk. Without access to proper, clean, well-funded healthcare facilities, the risks for mothers are higher as they cannot easily travel to hospitals or get the care they may need on time.
Not only singular extreme weather events such as tsunamis, fires, droughts, or floods take a toll on SRH of communities in SADCs. Increasingly high temperatures make it more difficult to carry out basic tasks such as going to get water or going shopping for food. The difficulties leave women unprotected and at risk for exploitation and victimization (Women Deliver, 2021).
There are two key categories when it comes to strategies to combat this correlation between climate change and SRH.
The first is making sure that National Action Plans take the issue of gender equality into special consideration when creating mitigation strategies. Often mitigation strategies of climate include housing, poverty, lack of food or water, etcetera. However, the knock-on effects that the crisis have on gender inequality and SRH is neglected. While extra care must be taken to make sure that hospitals stay accessible and that there are resources put into efforts such as flying doctors and traveling clinics and reducing the threshold for accessing healthcare; encouraging healthcare on the level of SRH must stay a priority.
In other words, alongside healthcare, education must continue to be prioritized. When education deteriorates, girls suffer the most exacerbating gender inequality, lowering the economic standing of the afflicted communities and making girls more vulnerable to child marriage, maltreatment, and sexual assault. National Action Plans therefore must consider education as vitally important. When National Action Plans are created, SRH needs of young people should be constantly monitored and evaluated, to ensure that this is an area that is not forgotten.
The second is including young people’s roles in mitigation strategies. According to the Global Center on Adaptation there are three important ways that young people can get involved (Chan, 2021, p. 29).
One, as “tech-savvy mobilizers” who uses social media to increase awareness, come up with new technological innovations to prevent fossil fuel emissions or remove carbon from the air. Education is the fuel for these “tech-savvy mobilizers”. Education plays an important role in reminding the young generation which voices to amplify. Learning about, for instance, the effects that climate change will have on gender inequality, will lead young people to advocate for increased gender equality and continue to build awareness.
Two, as “bridge builders”, who bridges the gap between climate focused Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and humanitarian NGOs through youth climate movements, local, political, and student initiatives that connect organizations with the community. Bridge builders can help organizations realize and use their influence over the ways that climate change will manifest itself into humanitarian crisis. As a result, National Action Plans are influenced to focus on gender inequality and the rights of minorities who are disproportionally affected by climate change.
Three, as “community champions” who gets into leadership by setting up grassroots movements and local initiatives that call their community into action. As the community demands better healthcare and access to resources for women and girls, governments are influenced to put more time and effort into climate change and its effects on minorities and the resolutions during humanitarian crisis. Communities are urged to think critically and activate cultural change where education for girls, healthcare and sexual education is prioritized. When cultural change is brought to life, health viewed as rights and not privileges, the difficult circumstances brought by extreme weather conditions may have different outcomes on SRH.
In conclusion, creating all the different mobilization methods for young people, education plays a key role. If young generations feel mobilized and incentivized to speak up and share their voice about such issues, they will do so with more ease. However, there should also be education for the collaborating bodies such as NGO’s and government bodies to listen to younger generations and take them seriously. The bilateral relationship will make young people feel called to act, and their acting making a difference in adapting and preventing the severe consequences of the climate crisis.
Climate change undoubtably affect millions. While there are global initiatives to combat the causes of climate crisis, everyone must play their part to prepare for a climate changed world and ensure that humanitarian crisis can be mitigated and fought against, for equal and just society. Western countries have a responsibility in this to facilitate resources and education for SADC regions, and not look away from the damage they have created.
Chan, S. (2021). Climate Change in Southern Africa.
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The Impact of the Climate Crisis on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights. (2022, May 19). UNFPA ESARO. https://esaro.unfpa.org/en/video/impact-climate-crisis-sexual-and-reproductive-health-and-rights
Climate Change’s Impact on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights. (2022, December 6). UNFPA ESARO. https://esaro.unfpa.org/en/video/climate-changes-impact-sexual-and-reproductive-health-and-rights
The link between climate change and sexual and reproductive health and rights–an evidence review. (2021). Women Deliver.
United Nations (2023). What is Climate Change? [Accessible on: https://www.un.org/en/climatechange/what-is-climate-change ]
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