UNFPA side events at the Commission on the Status of Women call for action to achieve gender equality, and sexual and reproductive health and rights, in the context of climate change
16 May 2022
16 May 2022
The 66th session of the Commission on the Status of Women, March 2022, culminated in the CSW 66 Agreed Conclusions, a call for action to achieve gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls in the context of climate change, environmental and disaster risk reduction policies and programmes.
The following events were organized with assistance and expertise from the Technical Division at UNFPA:
The objective is to catalyse collective action, spark global and local conversations among generations, drive increased public and private investment, and deliver concrete, game-changing results for girls and women. There is an urgent need to operationalize commitments from the Nairobi Summit and the Generation Equality Forum, spurring renewed action on the ICPD and Beijing agendas. Doing so demandes an emphasis on partnership, as implementation of the ICPD and Beijing agendas is a collective effort where every decision maker and voice is important in order to leave no one behind, and gender equality ensures the wellbeing of all people.
At this side event, Dr. Natalia Kanem, Executive Director, UNFPA, warned that when it comes to sexual and reproductive health, we are falling woefully short and we are failing women and girls. On the side of change is the Generation Equality Action Coalition on Bodily Autonomy and Sexual & Reproductive Health & Rights (SRHR), with its vision of ensuring all are empowered to exercise their SRHR and make autonomous decisions about their bodies free from coercion, violence and discrimination – and that SRHR information, education and services are freely available, accessible, acceptable and of high-quality.
It is critical that women are able develop strategies and approaches and participate equally in processes that directly impact their lives. “People who are marginalized and least responsible for climate change are also those least able to adapt and build resilience and protect against climate crisis,” said Dr. Julitta Onabanjo, Director of the Technical Division at UNFPA, noting climate research on the negative impact of heat stress and air pollution on maternal health outcomes, negative impact on livelihoods that disproportionately affect women, and increased risk of GBV due to distance women must travel to meet basic needs. Despite bearing a disproportionate burden in climate-related crises, however, women are often underrepresented in leadership roles and decision-making processes. Globally women’s positions in executive government, national parliaments and local governments are limited – and leadership within the climate change response is no different. UNFPA is working with governments and other partners to support adaptation responses to climate change, and to put women and girls at the centre of these efforts.
Climate change exacerbates gender equality across the globe. UNFPA recently took stock of 50 national climate action plans, finding references to health in all of them, and to gender in 36. Yet only six specifically mentioned sexual and reproductive health and rights, despite their fundamental connections to health, resilience and gender equality. Action is urgently needed to: integrate sexual and reproductive health and gender-based violence responses into climate adaptation policy and governance mechanisms; generate quality national data to inform targeted actions; include resourced sexual and reproductive health and GBV commitments in national climate, environment, development, preparedness and disaster risk reduction (DRR) policies and programmes; and ensure that climate adaptation financing includes gender-responsive climate action. UNFPA upholds sexual and reproductive health and rights as a foundation of resilience and of the sustainable well-being of societies overall.
Managing menstrual health can mean the difference between school or dropout, dignity or discrimination, sexualization or safety for girls suddenly considered marriagable or targeted for assault at the onset of menarch. At this side event, a civil society activist from Bangladesh, an entrepreneur from Uganda and the African Union Youth Ambassador for Peace called for increased support to menstrual health management as part of the United Nations work on sexual and reproductive health and rights. Enabling women and girls to manage this biological process maintains their dignity, agency and autonomy, and gives them choice and control over their bodies and lives.
A triple crisis of COVID-19, climate change and conflict – and their knock-on effects on poverty and inequality – is rolling back progress and triggering increases in child marriage. Panelists made powerful statements in support of girls and women, including those whose lives are being upended by war, and participants demonstrated continued partnership in action to eliminate child marriage as part of achieving 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The event created a space for UN Member States and other stakeholders to improve collective understanding of the effects of the triple crisis on child marriage and the potential interventions. Participants took the opportunity to demonstrate continued partnership and commitment to eliminate child marriage on the road to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
It is estimated that 4.2 million girls will be at risk of FGM over the next decade unless efforts are accelerated. Over 200 million girls and women have already been subjected to FGM – the majority of whom live in countries facing humanitarian, health, safety and climate crises. This panel discussion sought to engage with young people and youth organizations from different regions and provide them a platform to share their experiences towards their efforts in eliminating female genital mutilation (FGM) in the context of climate change, COVID-19 and other humanitarian crises. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its consequences, such as school closures, disruption of community-based activities, and health services, it has been estimated that there may have been as many as 2 million additional cases of FGM. Given the magnitude of these issues. there is an urgent need to devise resilience mechanisms by mobilizing the community, especially young people, in the elimination of FGM.
In countries affected by FGM, 7 in 10 girls and women think the practice should end. Today, a girl is about one-third less likely to undergo FGM than 30 years ago. Yet challenges persist. Cross-border FGM has emerged as a new trend that threatens the gains made towards ending FGM. As climate change has depleted resources for many families in East Africa, girls are more at risk of being subjected to FGM and consequently married off. In cross-border communities, families are sending their daughters across the borders to be mutilated and marry them off in exchange for dowry money. The “Saleema Initiative”, an African Union continent-wide social marketing campaign, calls for political commitment to accelerate the abandonment of FGM, including the emerging trends in cross-border FGM. Innovation is an important aspect of effective action: for example, UNFPA and partners have developed and launched an annual Youth Innovation Incubator on FGM called “INNOHACK” that invites young people from the African continent to submit ideas ranging from digital to community interventions to financial innovations that will facilitate access to FGM services and change in social and gender norms to accelerate the elimination of this harmful practice.