I grew up in an environment that normalized the oppression of women and I only realized later in life that I, like so many black women in my country, fell into the demographic that unfortunately suffers the most, because the reality is that global capitalism has placed women, especially black women, at the bottom of the economic system. Climate change is a direct product of the patriarchal capitalist economic model which is built on the destruction and exploitation of human and natural resources.
The oppression of women through control of women's bodies, minds, and labor is part and parcel of this system. As Africa still bears the horrifying scars of gender-based violence, alongside COVID-19, climate change has placed African women in the eye of the storm. Gender-based violence continues to dominate. In addition, to the weight of forced marriages and climate change. Growing up, child brides were a norm in my community.
It was a tradition for older men to marry young girls. Often the phrase “women mature faster than men“ was used to justify the tradition. The practice is called ukuthwala/ Ho shobediswa.” The act involves a man abducting a girl or young woman for the purposes of conducting a forced marriage. This is something that happened to my friend. She was only 12 years old when she got married against her will. She told me that she was sent to get married “because of a shortage of food in the house.” Her parents used to have a small piece of land, but floods wiped out their harvest. She tried to negotiate, to tell her parents that she wasn't ready for marriage, but they told her that it had to be done because it would save the family from poverty.
As Climate Change intensifies, more girls are being married young. Many families are struggling to afford to feed and house their own children. Research shows that there are close links between gender-based violence and the exploitation of women and girls. Climate change is recognized as a serious intensifier of gender-based violence.
More especially in Africa, climate change-induced crises have also been shown to worsen domestic violence, whether in relation to sexual and reproductive health or discrimination against indigenous women. As environmental degradation and stress on ecosystems increases, that, in turn, creates scarcity and stress on people.
Also, human trafficking rises in areas where the natural environment is under stress. One study quoted by the UN report estimated that 357 million girls who lived in conflict areas, would be at risk of exploitation and human trafficking.
According to new reporting project called “Brides of the Sun”, an independent investigative project funded by the European Journalism Center, after Cyclone Idai hit Malawi about 1.5 million girls are now at risk of getting married before adulthood because of climate change.