International Women's Day (IWD) is observed each year on 8th of March to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women while calling to act for ensuring gender equality in every sphere of our life.
This year, the theme of the day is 'Choose to Challenge', a call to challenge the existing gender bias and inequality for removing the barrier to rejoice the success of women in different sectors. Environmental protection is one of such areas where women are generating different success stories while their engagement is obstructed by gender-based violence and unpaid care work.
In Bangladesh, prevalence of partner violence committed against a woman is significantly high resulting in huge economic loss. While restrictions on girls' mobility from puberty limits their economic and social empowerment, during emergencies, such as natural disasters, women's restricted mobility puts them at increased risk of injury or death.
Different forms of gender-based violence are often linked to the disproportionate care work responsibilities of women. Evidence shows that environmental stresses increase such care work responsibilities and subsequently increase gender-based violence.
As mentioned by Keiko Ikeda in the article 'Gender Differences in Human Loss and Vulnerability in Natural Disasters: A Case Study from Bangladesh' published in 1995, during 1991 cyclone in Bangladesh, 90 percent of deaths were among women, as they did not move to cyclone shelters mainly so they could continue taking care of household responsibilities.
Along with natural disasters, climate change impacts and biodiversity loss also differently affect women than men in climate and biodiversity hotspots of Bangladesh due to the role of women in care work responsibilities.
However, there is also strong evidence that women play an important role in climate action and biodiversity conservation. They offer traditional knowledge and first-hand nature-based solutions to address environmental concerns.
Despite these, women environmental defenders face different forms of gender-based violence when they go outside to take environmental action, not least, as they have lesser time to perform care work responsibilities.
To highlight the nexus between gender-based violence and environmental protection, in 2020, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) published a global report titled as 'Gender-based violence and environment linkages: the violence of inequality' in collaboration with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
The report presents the fact that different forms of gender-based violence are observed across environmental contexts in different countries. These create obstacles to achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through affecting the security and well-being of nations, communities and individuals.
The report has revealed the complex linkages between gender-based violence and nature in three main contexts: access to and control of natural resources; environmental pressure and threats; and environmental action to defend and conserve ecosystems and resources. Such contexts are equally present in Bangladesh and gender-based violence is perpetrated against women in the context of environmental stresses.
Considering the context, it is therefore crucial to reduce violence against women and girls and their care work responsibilities to increase biodiversity and climate actions by women and girls in Bangladesh.
At grassroots level, building agency, skills and organizational capacity of the grassroots women's rights organizations and creating an enabling environment to counter gender-based violence is the first key step in this regard.
While Bangladesh formulated Climate Change and Gender Action Plan (ccGAP) in 2013 and National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP) in 2016, capacity of grassroots women's rights organizations need to be built so that they can implement the actions of ccGAP and NBSAP.
Through this, they can contribute in refining these national frameworks to help the country in gender-responsive climate action and biodiversity conservation across key sectors.
Since uneven care work responsibilities of women are often liable for gender-based violence related to the environment sector, it is also important to integrate Rapid Care Analysis (RCA) to design and pilot different interventions.
RCA may help in Recognizing, Reducing, Redistributing and Representing (known as 4R approach) care work at climate change and biodiversity hotspots of Bangladesh where climate change and natural disasters along with exploitation of natural resources are prominent.
The specific strategy should be on empowering grassroots youth-led women rights organizations in implementing ccGAP and NBSAP in their contexts, which will offer them benefits in reducing unpaid care work and thereby gender-based violence.
As different organizations work with grassroots women's rights organizations, building their capacity on linkages between care work, gender-based violence and biodiversity and climate resilience will be central to any action.
Grassroots women's rights organizations should have the capacity to design their action on climate and biodiversity linked to addressing the gendered care work burden, along with other social awareness works through engaging men, local government and business.
At the national level, multi-stakeholder dialogues are needed on gender-equal climate and biodiversity actions linking to care work and gender-based violence, in particular in the context of implementing, building on, and updating the country's ccGAP and NBSAP.
IUCN Bangladesh previously supported the government to formulate the ccGAP and NBSAP, which originally included relevant actions across environment sectors with potential to reduce care work burden.
If the capacity of influencers from the youth-led women's rights organizations could be developed to implement national frameworks like ccGAP and NBSAP, it will expose them to alternative gender norms and opportunities to reflect on and discuss these norms with peers leading to attitude and behavior change.
Women and girls will be more active in demanding their rights and taking climate and biodiversity actions if there are concomitant changes in the attitudes and behaviors of people around them.
With growing focus on engaging women environmental defenders in environmental protection due to their decisive role in climate action and biodiversity protection, it is now a high time to discuss the gender-based violence committed against women and their environment linkages.
Youth-led grassroots women rights organizations in Bangladesh can play the key role in this regard with support from the national and international women right organizations in choosing to challenge the prevailing gender-based violence and uneven unpaid care work responsibilities that inhibit women's engagement in environmental protection.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.