Crossroads blog | 08 Mar, 2024

Rising to the challenge: Addressing gender-based violence in climate efforts

This month, the 68th session of the Commission on the Status of Women is focused on financing towards gender equality and the empowerment of all women. And on International Women's Day, Dr Bama Athreya from the U.S. Agency for International Development writes that investing in safety from gender-based violence is crucial for climate financing to achieve gender-equitable blue and green economies.


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As part of the Resilient, Inclusive and Sustainable Environments (RISE) grants challenge, Cambodian organisations addressed gender-based violence barriers to women’s participation in community protected-area management. 


The dynamics that lead to environmental degradation also exacerbate gender inequities. Food insecurity, extreme weather events, and water scarcity – all of which are made worse by climate change – increase the risk that women, girls, and gender-diverse individuals will be put in situations where their physical, mental, and emotional health is compromised. This includes a heightened risk of gender-based violence (GBV).

In 2020, USAID commissioned new research through our partnership with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) on Gender-based violence and environment linkages: the violence of inequality. This increased our understanding of GBV and its connection to climate-related sectors. The links between GBV and environmental degradation are very real, and while our initial efforts to address their nexus have been promising, much more must be done.

Sustainable and equitable economies are possible. Ensuring that all are safe and free from violence is fundamental to attaining this vision.

This is what we have learned about the problem. Sexual violence is used as a tool to exert control over land and natural resources. For example, ‘sex-for-fish’ exploitation is unfortunately common in many fishing communities. Women are sexually exploited by fishermen to obtain the right to purchase the goods their livelihoods and families depend upon. Elevated HIV/AIDS transmission rates in fishing communities – at rates four to 14 times higher than national averages – suggest a high prevalence of this practice. One study found 34% of men in 303 households self-reported that they exchanged such assets for sex, but women rarely self-report in these situations due to stigma and fear of reprisals. The practice is so common that it often has its own name in local languages.

In other cases, women are exposed to increased risks of sexual assault as the distances they travel to collect fuel, water, or goods from the forest become greater. Such is the case in four government areas of Borno State in Nigeria, where 85% of surveyed women expressed fear of rape, murder, and abduction while collecting firewood. Other evidence has highlighted how the rise in climate disasters such as droughts and flooding leads to a rise in child, early, and forced marriage that utilises dowries or bride wealth as a negative coping strategy to climate-induced poverty, a violation of sexual and reproductive health rights. In Honduras, a recent report found that deaths, attacks, and the criminalization of female environmental defenders have tripled in the last six years. In the Philippines, 12% of villages affected by the onslaught of Typhoon Haiyan in 2013 reported an increase in sexual violence.


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In Kenya, the Kenya Wildlife Conservancies Association works under the RISE grants challenge to address gender-based violence as a barrier to women’s safe inclusion in conservancy roles. The project also works with communities to build women’s economic empowerment to increase gender equality and reduce financial pressures and disputes at home.

Photo: KWCA

Scaling gender-responsive environment policy and action 

Now that we’ve synthesised the evidence and identified the trends, what do we do about it? This International Women’s Day we’re spotlighting our partnership with IUCN to invest in programs that address gender-based violence and prioritise women and girls as effective stewards of natural resources. In 2019, USAID established the Resilient, Inclusive and Sustainable Environments (RISE) grants challenge, a first-of-its-kind fund that supports activities designed to address GBV in environmental and climate-related programs and generate evidence on promising interventions. 

Projects funded under RISE are advancing locally-led solutions to GBV and environmental challenges. The first rounds of RISE grants focused on conservation, forestry, artisanal and small-scale mining, and land tenure and property rights. These nine interventions impacted nearly 15,000 direct stakeholders and over 92,000 indirect community stakeholders through their work addressing GBV within environmental programs – building learning on engagement of men and boys, and creating non-traditional partnerships between environment and GBV prevention, response, and mitigation specialists. 

For example, WildAct Vietnam trained 21 women and six men to become staff advocates for colleagues who may experience sexual violence or harassment in green workplaces. It also worked to establish a “Women in Conservation” network in Vietnam; 18 local and international organisations later joined this network. Today, in Mexico, Espacio de Encuentro de las Culturas Originarias (EECO) is working hard to engage municipal governments in addressing the gender-based violence women face in ecotourism. At the community level, EECO has been working to build community safety plans to make the popular beaches that are essential for ecotourism safer for women.

The Kenya Wildlife Conservancies Association (KWCA) increased the number of women rangers and women board members in conservancy management, and is now scaling these approaches in a new landscape in Taita Taveta. They helped amend conservancy constitutions to embed gender equality in previously male-dominated conservancy decision-making bodies. ActionAid Zambia has been addressing sex-for-fish sexual violence, working with local fast-track specialised courts to establish a response system in conjunction with GBV-referral mechanisms providing psychosocial and legal support aid, working with NGOs, educators, social welfare workers, traditional and community leaders, judiciary representatives, the National Prosecution Authority, and the Victim Support Unit of local police forces. This work has resulted in recommendations that were recently presented to Zambia’s Parliament to inform improved policy formation.  

These are just a few of many promising examples that continue to provide important learning, and we’re sharing that learning as widely as we can. IUCN’s Gender-Based Violence and Environment Linkages (GBV-ENV) Center works to close the knowledge gap by hosting webinars, producing and disseminating knowledge products and best practices, and providing on-demand technical assistance.


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In Zipolite, Mexico, Espacio de Encuentro de las Culturas Originarias conducts a RISE grants challenge workshop with activist groups and lifeguards to discuss gender-based violence challenges women face in protected-area ecotourism, and work towards building a community safety plan.

Photo: EECO

Rising to the challenge 

We need to build on the RISE grants challenge successes as we seek to expand gender-equitable climate finance. RISE partners are increasing our understanding of how to address gender-based violence as it intersects with natural resource management. They are building women’s skills and knowledge, not only to push back on GBV, but to more effectively implement sustainability practises. And they are scaling this work beyond the USAID-funded interventions.

We will soon announce the next cohort of RISE winners. And we’re thrilled that in 2023 the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD) joined RISE as a donor, bringing total investments to address GBV amid climate change and environmental degradation to over $14 million. However, we have to do more to bridge these efforts to climate finance broadly, to catalyse additional sustainable and gender-equitable solutions. 

On International Women’s Day 2024, I renew our call to all our stakeholders to recognise the deep and systemic links between gendered power dynamics and the unsustainable exploitation of natural resources – and invest in changing those dynamics. Sustainable and equitable economies are possible. Ensuring that all are safe and free from violence is fundamental to attaining this vision.

To get in touch with the RISE team, email

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