A tangled web that needs urgent action

By Ahana Lakshmi (ahanalakshmi@gmail.com), Independent Researcher, Chennai, India


The impacts of climate change are many and distributed. While extreme events, enhanced in frequency or intensity by climate change, may not cause as many causalities as they did in the past, they disrupt many services. Among these, disruption in health services, including those that address sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), gender-based violence (GBV) and preventing harmful practices against women and children, are a growing concern.

A report released by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in October 2023 attempts to assess whether and how these concerns have been globally addressed in the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) since 2020. While NDC only list a nation’s priority actions and may not detail sectoral actions, nevertheless, of a total of 119 NDC examined, 117 did mention health issues in their submissions.

However, only 38 countries included in their submissions issues related to SRHR, GBV and other harmful practices; with countries in east and southern Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean taking the highest share. SRHR references typically were about maternal and newborn health with only a handful of references to sexual and reproductive health information and services. The lack of mention of abortion and post-abortion care are of particular concern. GBV has been correlated with food and livelihood insecurities caused by climate change impacts.

Reproductive health is a human right and SRHR needs are ever important. These are usually highlighted during humanitarian crises but recognizing climate change’s impacts on SRHR is an important milestone. This study shows a significant lacuna in many of the NDC. The existing structural drivers of inequality in society are often a tangled web causing non-uniform impacts. Climate change exacerbates these in the case of women and sexual minorities. Thirteen recommendations under four themes are listed; of these, the call for disaggregated data to inform appropriate interventions and providing appropriate financing, especially in underserved topical areas as SRHR and GBV, is crucial. It is hoped that the next NDC will address this issue more comprehensively.

The report ‘Taking Stock: Sexual
and Reproductive Health and Rights in Climate Commitments: A Global Review’ is available at https://www.un-ilibrary.org/content/books/9789213585726