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Impacts of Climate Change on Women’s Human Rights: Bangladesh perspective
At present, the consequences of climate change including increased temperature, increased sea level, excess precipitation, droughts, biodiversity loss, natural disasters and reduced food production threaten human rights and social justice. These consequences have brought more adversely impacts on low-income countries, which have produced less greenhouse gases. In particular, some vulnerable groups such as women are more vulnerable to climate change because they have weaker ability to address the challenge of climate change. As one of the least-developed countries in the world, Bangladesh faces the enormous challenges of the global climate change.
Women in Bangladesh have been seriously affected by the climate change, with their human rights under great threat. This essay will analyze how climate change affects the human rights of Bangladeshi women and find potential pathways to tackle these problems. It will achieve this by firstly giving definitions and basic analyses about climate change and human rights. Following this it will look at how Bangladeshi women’s rights to life, health and education were affected by climate change. Finally, it will seek to give effective advice for better response to these impacts.
2. Climate Change and Human Rights
2.1 Climate Change
There are two major definitions of climate change that are widely used. The two different definitions are presented by Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC), and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). According to FCCC(1992) as cited by Pielke (2004), FCCC that focused on international policy, described climate change as “a change of climate that is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity, that alters the composition of the global atmosphere, and that is in addition to natural climate variability over comparable time periods”. On the other hand, IPCC that focused on scientific assessments defined climate change as “a change in the state of the climate that can be identified (e.g., by using statistical tests) by changes in the mean and/or the variability of its properties, and that persists for an extended period, typically decades or longer”(Qin, Stocker & IPCC, 2013 : p123-125). It is clear that IPCC give climate change a broader definition than FCCC.
On the ground of FCCC definition, the reduction of vulnerability cannot be realized except though greenhouse gas emissions. But according to IPCC definition, there are some measures including adaption policies effective to address ecological or societal vulnerability brought by climate change. In this paper, both of this will be taken into consider.
2.2 Human Rights
Facts and studies have shown that climate change poses a great challenge to human rights issues. Human rights are the inherent rights of every individual, regardless of our nationality, place of residence, sex, ethnicity, religion, language or any other status (Ariella Azoulay,2015). As United Nations (n.d.) have noted, “human rights included the right to life and liberty, freedom from slavery and torture, freedom of opinion and expression, the right to work and education, and many more”. It is worth mentioning that the concept of human rights does not remain at the theoretical level, but is described and protected by International human rights law (IHRL) and some national laws. For example, in Britain the Human Rights Act 1998 was introduced to protect human rights.
As women’s human rights are gaining increasing attention in the context of advocating gender equality, some research and related institutions begin to focus on the impact of climate change on women’s human rights and do some work to help local women in the climatic vulnerable areas.
3. Climate Change’s Effects on Women’s Human Rights in Bangladesh
Bangladesh is one of the countries most likely to suffer adverse impacts from climate change. This is mainly influenced by two factors, one of which is its special geographical location and the other is its social and economic underdevelopment.
The total land area in Bangladesh is 147,570 square kilometers, including 80% of the floodplains. As a result, during the rainy season, most parts of the country (except the Northwest Highlands) are prone to flooding. Saleemul Huq（2001）compared Bangladesh with the Netherlands, indicating that geographical location is not the only reason why Bangladesh is affected by severe climate change. Bangladesh and the Netherlands are both low-lying deltaic countries, but the Netherlands possesses enough financial and scientific capacity to build higher seawalls for protecting its citizens against natural disasters, but Bangladesh cannot.
3.1 Effect of Climate Change on the Right to Life
Climate change has caused frequent natural disasters in Bangladesh. Gender issues have always been a marginalized topic in the context of climate change, but we can still find some gender-related data in related climate change studies.
Women are less able to escape from natural disasters. For example, during the 1991 Bangladesh Cyclone, the mortality rate of women was five times higher than that of men among the 20-44 age group(UNEP,2005). The reasons why there was a such difference are as follows. First, there is an imbalance of information between men and women in Bangladesh. Men can communicate with each other in public places for access to information, while women are mostly at home, unable to obtain timely and useful warning messages. Secondly, most Bangladeshi women lack the skills to swim or climb trees, and their dresses are not conducive to their escape from the disaster. In addition, it is more difficult for women to get rescuing resources to deal with damage and loss from extreme weather events because of the long-standing social bias. In other words, the gender inequality in Bangladesh society contributes to the vulnerability of local women.
3.2 Effect of Climate Change on the Right to health
As a result of climate change, women’s work has become even more dangerous and difficult in the society of Bangladesh. In most poor communities, getting drinking water for their families is the responsibility for women, just as Bangladesh. Climate change causes problems of drought and salinization of water in Bangladesh (Aguilar Revelo, 2009). Women in families have to walk a long distance to obtain water resources, which consumes a large amount of their time and leads to high risks of injury and even death in the process.
Climate change have driven child marriage risks in Bangladesh, with women’s right to health damaged. Natural disasters such as floods and droughts aroused by climate change have made thousands of people become displaced and lose their financial sources (e.g. crops). In this “hopeless” situation, many parents have to marry their young daughters off. Girls Not Brides (2017) noted that Bangladesh already had one of highest rates of child marriage in the world at 52%. Around 30% of girls in Bangladesh are married before their 15th birthday. Early marriages make these girls more vulnerable to domestic violence, and pregnancy at a young age is harmful for women’s health.
3.3 Effect of Climate Change on the Right to Education
High temperatures, droughts and floods have made farmers in rural areas lose their land, crops and livestock, then these people have to migrate from villages to the so-called “climate change refuges”in Dhaka. Education is free in rural Bangladesh, while it is not free in Dhaka (Jabeen,2014). In the face of high tuition fees and living costs, parents choose to let the girls give up education. Gender bias in Bangladesh society also contributes to the choice. Families often prefer to give boys the limited educational opportunities and the girls should make an effort for boys.
Also, gathering water and producing crops become increasingly difficult due to extreme weather in Bangladesh so that girls have to stay at home to share the housework. It becomes more and more difficult for local women to participate in decision-making process of climate change policy and measures due to lack of education. As a result, many policies and measures for dealing with climate change are formulated almost entirely by men and can not accurately satisfy the demands of women.
4. Possible Solutions
Protecting women’s human rights from climate change needs transboundary cooperation including international institutions, local government, NGOs. There are some suggestions to address the issue and to improve women’s human rights in the context of the climate change in Bangladesh.
First, women’s empowerment in the decision-making process is of vital importance. Actually, this concept has been clearly stated in some policies or agreements, but it still faces many challenges in its practical application. For example,“The Paris Agreement”explicitly requires that gender equality and women’s empowerment should be taken into account in addressing climate change, and gender differences should be considered in actions and capacity building to address climate change(Guiot,2016).
However, in poor countries, women’s empowerment is not easy to realize in practice because of social prejudices and the low educational level of women. For better empowerment, local governments should provide education subsidies or free education for these climate refugees. Relevant policies should be introduced to demand that all children including girls receive basic education. Compulsory education gives girls more employment opportunities and enables them to participate in the stages of social decision-making, making their voices heard in the area of addressing climate change issue. Moreover, women’s education optimizes the demographic structure andthus has a positive impact on climate change. This creates a virtuous circle.
Secondly, the infrastructure should be improved. As mentioned earlier, water is greatly affected by climate change, and women’s access to water becomes more difficult and vulnerable. It seems impossible to change this culture in Bangladesh that women should get water for their families, but infrastructure projects can be implemented in local area to help them get watereasier.
For example, local governments, corporations or international organizations can invest money and technology to establish water factories to enable local residents to use clean tap water directly. In addition, construction of the roads and schools in local villages can also reduce the time and distance to go to school. As a result, the way of getting water becomes safe and women can have more time for education.
Finally, women’s access to early warning information and the basic skills to deal with disasters should be improved. For example, the local government and other non-governmental organizations can provide local women with free disaster-resistant training. Considering the low-level education of local women, training materials should be designed easy to understand. And a special information transmission team including female should be set up to timely transmit important information to women groups and reflect the demands of women.
Women in Bangladesh is one of the most vulnerable groups when it comes to the impact of climate change. With the impact of climate change, women not only need to spend more time in domestic work, but also becomes more vulnerable in the process. Climate change has aggravated the problem of poverty, leading to the emergence of dropouts and child marriages. In fact, women’s rights to life, health and education have been adversely affected by climate change.
Fortunately, more and more agencies and researchers have been aware of this issue and done some related research. These research outcomes have been gradually affecting the government’s policies about climate change. However, increasing the human rights of women in Bangladesh will require more efforts from multiple agencies. The essay also provides some possible ways in practice to deal with the problem, including women’s empowerment in decision-making process, constructing tap water factories, improving local roads, disaster prevention training for women.
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 Guiot, J. & Cramer, W. (2016) Climate change: The 2015 Paris Agreement thresholds and Mediterranean basin ecosystems. Science. 354 (6311), 465-468.
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