Gender equality and women’s empowerment today for a sustainable future


As the world continues to struggle and recover from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and governments seek to put in place policies to build back better and greener, we are simultaneously affected by another global crisis. – climate change – and the impact it has on women’s health, rights and equality.

Climate change is a multiplier of pre-existing forms of vulnerabilities and inequalities, including gender inequalities, often leading to negative impacts on women and girls. Between 2010 and 2020, Asia and the Pacific accounted for three quarters of the 122 million people affected by disasters. With Asia-Pacific being the most disaster-prone region in the world, we cannot ignore the disproportionate effects of climate change on women and girls.

Gender-based violence and harmful practices, including child marriage and female genital mutilation, are increasing among climate-affected populations. Climate-related emergencies also cause major disruptions in access to essential sexual and reproductive health services and life-saving medicines, including for maternal health care, contributing to an increased risk of maternal and newborn deaths.

Adelina, 43, from Dinagat, Philippines, illustrates how climate change affects women when they seek maternal health care. Adelina was pregnant with her sixth child when Super Typhoon Odette made landfall recently, severely damaging the nearest medical unit and leaving her no choice but to take a difficult two-hour boat ride to give birth in a hospital. from a nearby town.

All stakeholders have a critical role to play in ensuring that climate adaptation, disaster preparedness, response and early recovery efforts are climate resilient and more inclusive. This will ensure that women have access to sexual and reproductive services and information, including maternal health, family planning and protection services. This in turn will enable women and girls to protect their rights, make choices and realize their potential, as well as build the adaptive capacity of communities affected by climate change.

During the Fourth World Conference held in Beijing in 1995, the world community agreed to promote an active and visible policy of mainstreaming a gender perspective in all policies and programs. More than 25 years later, we see that progress towards gender equality and the empowerment of women has been slow. For this reason, UNFPA and its partners are stepping up their efforts to reverse this worrying trend and achieve universal access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health and rights for all.

As women remain on the front lines of the pandemic and climate crisis, whether as health workers, community leaders, educators or unpaid care givers, there is an urgent need to build the resilience of women and girls in every society at all levels to tackle any crisis. and ensuring their access to sexual and reproductive health services and information.

When flooding severely affected Rohingya refugee camps last year in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, midwife Shakila Parvin was quick to provide on-the-ground support providing sexual and reproductive health services. She also provided mental health support to families, reassuring them of the health and safety of the mother and newborn after emergency deliveries.

The Program of Action of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development called for making women’s rights and their reproductive health a central issue in national and international economic and political development efforts. Yet while achieving bodily autonomy is essential for all, only 55% of girls and women aged 15-49 who are married or in union say they can make their own decisions about health and sexual and reproductive rights by deciding on health care, contraception and their own sexual practices.

To ensure a better and more sustainable future for all, it is critically important to accelerate transformational progress, including through maternal health and family planning services, increased decision-making in sexual and reproductive health, and by strengthening feminist and youth policies, organizations and networks to promote and protect these issues in order to build resilient societies, particularly in the context of climate change.

To facilitate this, UNFPA, the United Nations agency for sexual and reproductive health, is working to create a world where women can lead to ensure a sustainable future. On International Women’s Day, UNFPA calls on all governments to join hands and invest in achieving universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights for all, including by ensuring the Meaningful participation of women and girls in climate action by shifting and sharing power with excluded groups and individuals – and promoting gender parity in all decision-making spaces.

The author is Regional Director of UNFPA Asia-Pacific.

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Mara R. Wilmoth