Women rights activists are campaigning for more funding to women-led organisations that promote gender equality as well as sexual and reproductive health and rights, in a move they say is vital in achieving climate justice.

Speaking during a panel discussion at the ongoing United Nations Climate summit known as COP28 on Monday, Dr Heather McMullen, a senior lecturer at the Centre for Public Health and Policy at the Queen Mary University of London, said sexual and reproductive health and rights are the cornerstone of climate justice.

“As the crisis increases, it is taking advantage of existing societal inequalities (and) we are being affected in fundamental ways harder than others,” she said.

“Sexual and reproductive health and rights and justice are consistently contested and under threat.”

McMullen said these rights are some of the most intersectional, political and stigmatised issues faced in human society. 

“We need to take urgent and decisive action that leaves no one behind,” she said. 

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McMullen said the climate space is dominated by issues on the intersection of climate change and health like how rising temperatures and floods are causing diseases.

“But so often missing from this conversation is the impacts of the climate crisis on gender and sexual and reproductive health and rights. They are multiple and complex,” she said, adding that culture, patriarchy, religion and social status determine how women access human rights while those less powerful are vulnerable.

McMullen said sexual and reproductive health and rights are not a priority during the time of crisis.

“It is difficult to keep insistent focus during times of crisis. There is no political attention and funding in this area,” she said.

“We see disruption to access to contraception and the impact of water scarcity on women’s health. For issues such as HIV, you need adequate nutrition for the medication to work effectively.”

In Zimbabwe, climate change-induced weather events have exacerbated the plight of women.

After Cyclone Idai hit the eastern parts of the country in March 2019, non-governmental organisations recorded a spike in the number of women that faced gender-based violence, sexual abuse and lack of access to sexual and reproductive health and rights services. 

Early this year, the government launched the Climate Change Gender Action Plan aimed at integrating gender considerations into climate change policy making it inclusive of women’s needs and perspectives as well as considering them in decision-making processes.

Phelister Amondi Awuor, a representative of the Catholic Youth Network for Environmental Sustainability in Africa, said climate grassroots women from the continent should be able to access climate financing without discrimination.

“When you look at the COP processes, the women have been misappropriated,” she told Newsday on the sidelines of COP28 at Expo City in Dubai on Tuesday.

“African women should be recognised and supported to rise in the decision-making and policy-making roles”

*This story was produced with support from MESHA and IDRC Eastern and Southern Africa office.