Youth activists' perspectives on climate, sexual and reproductive health and rights, and gender inequality

Published: August, 2023



Generation Equality is a global multistakeholder partnership mechanism advocating for a wide range of issues, including the gender and climate justice agenda. Convened by UN Women in 2020, Generation Equality is based on the landmark 25th anniversary of the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action on the promotion of women's rights. In this Comment, we build on a Generation Equality side event held during the Sixty-Sixth Commission on the Status of Women in 2021, which placed a spotlight on the neglected but highly interconnected climate, sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), and gender inequality crises.1

 Among the alarming magnitude of climate disasters worldwide, the effects of climate change on people and the planet continue to be catastrophic, including the disruptions to education, health services, and SRHR services; as a result, gender equality is being threatened on a global scale. We can no longer sit back and ignore these interconnections—the lives of women, girls, and vulnerable populations are at risk. This Comment puts forth the interlinked climate–SRHR–gender crises and then shifts to young climate activists contextualising the crises in Brazil.

What are the linkages between climate, SRHR, and the gender inequality crises?

Gender and SRHR are not factored into climate emergencies. Responses to climate emergencies are glaringly gender blind, but there are important implications for individual and population-level health, education, and economic outcomes. Emerging literature indicates that during a climate crisis, sexual and gender-based violence and human trafficking increase.2

 Climate emergencies are shown to disrupt SRHR services. The provision of SRHR services are deprioritised, with reduced access to services, destruction of health facilities, effects on antenatal and postnatal care, and restricted stocks of contraception and menstrual products in times of emergencies.3

 Estimates show that these disasters affect the education of approximately 37·5 million learners worldwide each year, with a disproportionate effect on girls.4

 School disruptions affect the entire life course of a young adolescent girl, through poorer health outcomes, increased risk of falling into poverty, child marriages, and an inability to enter the job market or even participate in decision-making spaces. The disruption to schooling services also leads to difficulties in accessing comprehensive sexuality education, which promotes bodily autonomy, understanding violence, and addresses harmful norms and gender biases, which is essential to realising SRHR. Climate change coupled with mismanagement, biodiversity loss, pollution, and overconsumption has contributed to depleted water supplies around the world. This depletion translates to an estimated 800 000 women dying each year due to a lack of safe water, sanitation, and hygiene.5

 Increases in diseases are apparent in the 44 million pregnant women worldwide with sanitation-related hookworm, which causes maternal anaemia and preterm births.5

What does the climate, SRHR, and gender inequality crisis mean for our local context in Brazil?

Brazil is considered to have a constraining environment for SRHR, which, when coupled with climate change, leads to severe effects on maternal and child health. At present, abortion is allowed in certain cases, such as if the mother's life is at risk, if the fetus has anencephaly, or if a pregnancy is the result of rape. Even under these conditions, abortion is only provided in 37 of 5570 municipalities, as health workers continue to refuse to provide abortions. Support is growing for legislative proposals in the National Congress that aim to ban abortions, even in cases of rape.6

 Due to its tropical climate, Brazil has high levels of vector-borne diseases associated with the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which is responsible for Zika virus, dengue virus, and malaria. A growing evidence base shows that increasing temperature and precipitation rates leads to larger population exposures to vector-borne diseases. Zika virus and malaria are considered to pose a substantial risk to both pregnant women and their infants.7

 Rivers in Brazil are becoming increasingly contaminated due to mining activity, primarily in the Amazon states. Mining activity is linked to deforestation and an increase in carbon dioxide emissions. Indigenous women and girls are dependent on rivers for food and water. A cross-sectional study based on a census of three Munduruku indigenous villages (Sawré Muybu, Poxo Muybu, and Sawré Aboy) located in the Sawré Muybu Indigenous Land found that, for women of childbearing age, mercury exposure due to mining is associated with high blood pressure, impaired lactation, and developmental issues for infants.8

 These emerging trends on the climate–SRHR–gender inequality crisis points to the need for gender-just climate responses (panel).Panel


Five actions for gender-just climate responses


  • Support and fund improved data collection (including sex-disaggregated data and gender statistics), on the interlinkage between climate change, SRHR, and gender equality to aid decision-making and prioritisation of climate responses.
  • Increase efforts to ensure that climate emergency responses, recovery approaches, and measures have a focus on gender equality and SRHR.
  • Climate emergencies can be averted by preventing environmental crimes, such as illegal mining and river pollution, thereby mitigating the effect on pregnant women and infants.
  • Localised perspectives and experiences are important in decision-making spheres. Prioritise the participation and leadership of indigenous and local communities, including women and girls, in decision-making and budgeting for climate change mitigation and adaptation, and environmental conservation.
  • Finance and support coordinated multisectoral efforts involving environmental, public health, education, and gender equality institutions and personnel to build gender-just climate action.


We declare no competing interests. We thank the UN Women team for providing support for the piece, specifically, Nazneen Damji and Seemin Qayum for contributing to the strategic direction and the review of this Comment. Gabrielle Leite and Clara Ceravolo provided operational support (coordination) for the development of this Comment.



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Published: August 2023




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