Written By: Christine Samwaroo
Annually, the global community observes 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence, between 25 November to 10 December. 16 Days of Activism is observed under the theme UNITE: Invest to prevent violence against women and girls. Violence inflicted on women and girls remains one of the most pervasive human rights violations. For us in the Caribbean, gender based violence is not a new topic. We continue to record high levels of gender based violence. Countries such as Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago women continue to record high rates of intimate partner violence throughout their lifetime. Specifically in Guyana, it has been found that one in every two women will experience some form of gender based violence in their lifetime. This record is higher than the global average of one in every three women. Many of us in the Caribbean know or are survivors ourselves of some form of gender based violence. The region’s long traumatic history of colonization, enslavement and indentureship shows up generations later in pervasive inter personal and gender based violence.
This year, the United Nations Framework on Climate Change Conference of Parties (COP) is being held simultaneously with 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence. The climate crisis is real in the Caribbean. It is seen in extreme weather events and natural disasters, droughts, flooding, impacts to agriculture and extreme heat. Women and girls remain highly susceptible to gender-based violence and socio-economic imbalances research shows that during times of disasters, violence against women and girls increases. This can be seen through the Shadow Pandemic during the COVID 19 pandemic whereby there were higher domestic violence rates reported. Data shows that gender inequality is intensified by climate related issues. (UN Women)
Understanding the unique disadvantages that women and girls face as a result of climate change in the Caribbean, it is therefore important to centre their voices in all key decisions and policies. Adapting to climate change is paramount for the region and it is extremely important that all adaptation measures use a gender responsive lens. It is necessary to know how policies can align and the importance of implementation. As we work towards ending the violence against women and girls, as climate activists, it is our role to speak out on issues of injustices, to know the signs of GBV, and to advocate for solutions to be implemented. In the Caribbean harassment has become commonplace but it is our role to call it out and have Teach Ins, workshops to unpack common norms and practices. We need to continue to collect data and build solidarity across movements.
All aspects of gender justice, whether it's tied to bodily autonomy, sexual and reproductive health, education and health is tied to living on a healthy planet to sustain our lives and livelihoods. The Conference of Parties is one place where these issues are amplified and much work is being done to help persons to understand the deep connection between gender and climate justice. We know that limiting global temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius will allow vulnerable communities to adapt to the already severe impacts of the climate crisis. COP 28 and 16 Day of Activism against Gender Based Violence provide an opportunity to see the interlinkages of these issues. It is shown that women and girls are most likely to die in climate disasters. Women are among the poorest and oftentime frontline of the crisis, making up 80% of persons displaced during a crisis. Threats and pressures on the environment and its resources amplify gender inequality and power imbalance in communities coping with resource scarcity and societal stress. (IUCN, Gender based violence and environmental linkages)
Research findings show that ending gender-based violence, promoting gender equality and protecting the environment are positively linked to securing a safe, sustainable and equitable future for everyone. One of the major outcomes of COP 28 is the operationalization of the Loss and Damage Fund. Looking at this year’s theme of aligning with investing to prevent GBV, it is necessary to invest in climate and feminist groups that are addressing issues of both climate and gender justice through an intersecting framework. It is urgent that funding reach grassroots groups that understand the whole of society approach, caring for people and the environment, and are conscious of the historical marginalization of women and girls in the Caribbean.
As we continue with our campaign Truth be Told: A Caribbean Call to Action on Climate and Gender Justice, we are exploring how climate vulnerability and gender inequality are experienced by different groups of people as we push for policy change throughout the Caribbean. We encourage you to follow the campaign and expand your understanding of the intersections of gender and climate justice and join our call to action.
The Breadfruit Collective is an intersectional Gender and Environmental Justice NGO based in Guyana. The Breadfruit Collective believes that we cannot have a functioning society until it forms a healthy, positive relationship with its women, girls, and the environment. We strongly believe that the issues are interconnected, and therefore an intersectional and inclusive approach must be used.