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Taking Stock: Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights in Climate Commitments – an Arab States Review – Jordan



Climate change has lasting impacts on human health and disproportionately affects women and girls.

Women, girls and marginalized groups who are largely dependent on natural resources for livelihoods are among the hardest hit by extreme weather patterns. These weather patterns limit their access to food, water, shelter, education and access to essential health services, including those that address sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), gender-based violence (GBV) and preventing harmful practices such as child marriage and female genital mutilation.

Emerging evidence shows the direct and indirect impacts of climate change on women, girls and marginalized groups and their SRHR as well as on GBV and harmful practices. A number of studies find that heat has an adverse impact on maternal and newborn health outcomes, increasing the risk of stillbirth (Kuehn and McCormick, 2017; Rylander, Odland and Sandanger, 2013; Olson and Metz, 2020; Poursafa, Keikha and Kelishadi, 2015; Cil and Cameron, 2017; Pacheco, 2020; Yüzen and others, 2023). Additionally, increased poverty and food insecurity driven by climate-related loss of livelihoods are impacting maternal health (IPCC, 2014). Air pollution (Bekkar and others, 2020), climate-related diseases and food insecurity also have adverse impacts on maternal and neonatal health outcomes, which can be more severe for populations facing multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination.

Climate-related events can jeopardize access to clean water and essential supplies for safe births and personal hygiene. One example of the adverse impacts of climate change on women in the Arab States is the multiyear drought that started in Syria in 2007 and led to the rural-urban migration of more than a million people, primarily men, seeking alternative livelihoods. The increased unemployment and poverty that ensued have been linked to varying degrees to the civil war that broke out in 2011 (Gleick, 2014; Kelley, 2015; Werrell, Femia and Sternberg, 2015). This forced many women to stay behind and suddenly become heads of household, where, unable to own land in their own name, they faced food insecurity, malnourishment and the eventual withdrawal of girls from school (CARE International, 2021). Waterborne illness, food insecurity and malnutrition present great risks for pregnant women, often resulting in adverse pregnancy outcomes (IPCC, 2022).

The risks of GBV and child marriage are known to increase in times of stress and scarcity and following extreme weather events and disasters (McLeod, Barr and Rall, 2019; Pope and others, 2022), and climate change exacerbates the drivers of child marriage.

GBV is a violation of human rights and has long-lasting impacts, including limiting women’s ability to build resilience to climate change, impeding the capacity of survivors and their dependents to proactively and positively respond to and manage ongoing challenges and crises (Le Masson and others, 2019). Additionally, climate-related loss or change of livelihoods, as well as displacement and migration, increase risks of GBV and harmful practices, including child marriage and female genital mutilation (Ahmed, Haq and Bartiaux, 2019; McLeod, Barr and Rall, 2019; Pope and others, 2022).

Climate-related emergencies cause major disruptions in access to health services and life-saving commodities, including contraception (IPAS, 2022). The challenge climate change poses around access to SRHR services will be keenly felt by those who already face discrimination and marginalization (e.g. women, adolescents and youth, LGBTQIA+ adolescents and youth, migrants, IDPs, Indigenous peoples, persons with disabilities and coastal and rural populations), and in areas where access to services may already be limited (e.g. humanitarian settings and areas affected by conflict).

Failing to support the achievement of the full range of SRHR and prevention of GBV and harmful practices will hamper women’s and girls’ capacity to engage in climate action and policymaking and has direct implications for the achievement of human-centred sustainable development as outlined in the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) Programme of Action and reinforced by the Nairobi Summit on ICPD25. Gaps in the realization of SRHR can prevent women and girls from pursuing education, hinder livelihoods and reduce their ability to participate in household and community decision-making.

Girls forced to marry before completing their education – and those denied access to education, literacy and public life – may experience limited ability to receive and act on climate information and alerts from disaster early warning systems. The realization of SRHR and the right to be free from violence, particularly for those already facing discrimination, can empower people to exercise their agency and engage in climate action. For those affected by intersecting inequalities, realizing SRHR can allow marginalized groups’ needs and priorities to be represented in climate action and policy processes.

The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report found that “the vulnerability of ecosystems and people to climate change differs substantially among and within regions [….] driven by patterns of intersecting socioeconomic development” and other structural inequalities (IPCC, 2022). These ongoing patterns of inequity are affecting women, girls and marginalized groups disproportionately.

It also recognizes that the current efforts to reduce global emissions need to be accompanied by scaled-up adaptation actions that aim at strengthening resilience at the local, national and global levels to support women, girls and the most vulnerable groups from the inevitable impacts of climate change.

Recent reviews of the inclusion of SRHR and gender issues in Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) documents, including a review conducted by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) with Queen Mary University of London in 2021, identified significant gaps in national adaptation response and financing in critical sectors, such as health systems, protection systems and disaster risk reduction plans (McMullen and others, 2021). The report found that even where gender dimensions are incorporated and elaborated in the national climate documents, they lack clear adaptation actions and require resources as well as monitoring and evaluation mechanisms to ensure successful implementation. The review identified important gaps in the national climate policy integration of SRHR and GBV issues and in the identification of gender-transformative approaches that address the root causes of inequalities in various contexts.

To ensure no one is left behind, it is critical to review national climate policies, including the NDCs, and explore and address gaps related to SRHR and GBV. It is critical to engage with SRHR and recognize that it includes some of the most stigmatized and deprioritized yet fundamental dimensions of life. This is where we often see an acute concentration of multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination. If the climate crisis is a crisis of inequality, SRHR represents a key intersection in need of attention and investment. This is essential to building a better and more equal world.

UNFPA has committed to three transformative results by 2030: (1) ending preventable maternal deaths; (2) ending unmet need for family planning; and (3) ending GBV and harmful practices. The rapid pace of climate change over this decade will make each of these transformative results more difficult to achieve. UNFPA supports governments to ensure the incorporation of SRHR and GBV issues in the design of national climate policies and solutions, with women, young people and vulnerable groups at the heart of developing innovative solutions to improve climate resilience. This regional overview of references related to SRHR, GBV and harmful practices, health, gender, youth, human rights and population dynamics provides insight into the needs, priorities and gaps of countries around SRHR in climate policies. This knowledge informs cross-country learning and supports action towards inclusion and representation of groups that are disproportionately affected.

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