Climate Change mitigation & adaptation measures should not isolate health services including SRHR

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By Partinella Ngozo

Government, Civil Society Organisations (CSO), international organizations, donors, researchers, and advocates have been urged to advocate for gender responsive approaches to climate action that address SRHR, this publication can reveal.

Despite the increasing recognition that climate action must be gender responsive, to date it is disheartening to note that limited attention has been given to the linkages between climate change and Sexual and reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR), which comprises issues that involves access to contraceptives, maternal and newborn health, and gender-based violence (GBV).

Speaking during the Climate Justice Talk-Show on the topic; the link between climate change and sexual reproductive health and rights, Pretty Nxumalo a Media Programmes Officer with Amakhosikazi Media stated that climate change affects women disproportionately to men hence there is need to come up with gender approaches to climate change action that supports the issue of SRHR.

“Climate change is inseparably linked with Sexual and reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) and gender equality. Although Climate change affects both men and women, women are disproportionately affected, from poor sanitation, unpaid care work to gender based violence women bear the greatest burden of climate change impacts.

“During disasters sexual reproductive health services are often limited and at times totally unavailable such that women often give birth without much needed medical support, women and girls ability to manage their menstruation with dignity is impaired without water and menstrual products. Disrupted continuity of health care creates setbacks in the advancement of women’s rights to access to health and sexual reproductive services.

“Forced migrations to camps for displaced people has a huge impact on women and girls who likely to face sexual violence. Due to poverty that comes after disasters girls are married off for the survival of their families. Female survivors of climate related disasters are more likely to face decreased life expectancy, increased complications in child birth.

“The relationship between climate change and SRHR may seem indirect, but as the impacts of climate change are more regularly and intensely felt, the lack of attention to SRHR in the context of climate change may present greater challenges to poor and marginalised people.

“There is thus need to advocate for Gender responsive approaches to climate action that address SRHR. Climate adaptation measures should not isolate health services including sexual and reproductive health services. There should be acknowledgment of gender differences in adaptation needs and capacities,” she said.

Climate Reality Leader Perseverance Javangwe who is also the founder and director of the Climate Justice Zimbabwe (CJZ) added that adaptation efforts can indirectly impact SRHR. He also said most of the mitigation efforts are often unrelated to SRHR, but when linked, they must be able to employ a social justice and rights-based approach.

“Though the current WHO guidance for adaptation planning in the health sector does integrate gender considerations to a certain extent, it does not explicitly address SRHR issues beyond recognizing for example that pregnant women are vulnerable to malnutrition. It is therefore unsurprising that the adaptation responses focus on addressing these issues rather than explicitly focusing on SRHR. Similarly, despite some research highlighting that weaknesses in health systems and gaps in health services are a drivers of vulnerability to climate change, these issues have received relatively limited attention in discussions about adaptation and they rarely cover SRHR issues.

Non-SRHR related mitigation strategies such as the adoption of new technologies that reduce emissions, improve forest conservation and management, and efforts to promote renewable energy are front and center in efforts to address climate change because they tackle the bigger causes of climate change, such as consumption patterns and large emissions from developed countries. However, even when interventions do not explicitly target or integrate SRHR, actors carrying out climate change mitigation strategies should acknowledge potential SRHR-related impacts on vulnerable populations to prevent unintentional harm,” he said.

The Paris Agreement on climate change underscored a preamble that states must be committed to “respect, promote and consider…the right to health…,” in their respective climate actions. However states often do not consider women’s health particularly SRHR, in their climate policies, strategies, programming, and budgeting. With climate change in the equation, the pursuit of universal access to health, including SRHR (related to SDG 3 and SDG 5), will become more challenging for women and girls

Javangwe further stated that government, CSOs, International Organisations, Researchers, and advocates should have cohesion and improve efforts to fight the climate crisis without ignoring SRHR through a myriad of factors.

“The opportunity to change the world is now therefore, in order for us to fully capture or integrate the linkages between SRHR and climate change, and for us to minimize the impact of climate change on the population, and improve efforts to fight climate change without placing SRHR at risk, there is need for governments, international organizations, CSOs, donors, researchers, and advocates to work together and: enhance collaboration between the climate change, health, and women’s rights advocacy and humanitarian communities. Through promoting gender-transformative climate action by addressing the linkages between climate change and SRHR across climate action processes. Also increasing the focus on inclusive, gender-balanced, multi-sectoral stakeholder participation in climate policy. Invest in research to address the evidence gaps and integrate analysis of SRHR and climate data. And furthermore to realise the full range of SRHR in order to prepare for, respond to, and recover from climate-related disasters Invest in health systems that address the underlying causes of vulnerability to climate change,” he said.

Zimbabwe should demonstrate high political commitment to provide women and girls with improved sanitation facilities, as well as affordable water supplies free of contamination, especially for those living in rural areas and who are marginalised or most vulnerable to climate change. This will ensure that women’s and girl’s rights to water and health, including being free from gender-based violence, are protected.

Realising SRHR is essential for girls, women, and underrepresented populations to be able to exercise their agency and to make choices about their bodies and their lives. Zimbabwe has thus a huge responsibility to its people particularly women and young people to ensure that their health is realised while making sure that climate change does not hold us back.

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