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What do sexual rights have to do with the climate crisis?

The climate crisis affects everyone everywhere and it is one of the most urgent challenges of our time. RFSU's vision is a world in which everyone is free to make decisions about their own bodies and sexuality – but what does RFSU's work with realising sexual reproductive health and rights (SRHR), have to do with the climate crisis?

At RFSU we are committed to shedding light on this important interlinkage. A few examples of the link between the climate crisis and SRHR are the following:

  • Extreme weather caused by the the climate crisis impede access to sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services, for example when roads to service points are destroyed during floodings.
  • Risks of sexual and gender–based violence are heightened during crises and in times of displacement, that can be expected to increase as a result of more frequent extreme weather events.
  • Sexual and gender minorities are often more severely affected by disasters associated with natural and other hazards.
  • Access to SRHR is key to gender equality and reducing inequalities and therefore critical to climate change adaptation and resilience.
Red text on pink background: "Between 1990 to 2015, the richest 10% in the world were responsible for 52% of the cumulative carbon emissions."
Design & illustration by Nahal Sheikh

The climate crisis is unjust

One important factor to remember is that the climate crisis is underpinned by grave injustice. Those that contributed least to the climate crisis are most severely affected by its impacts. It has been estimated that between 1990 to 2015, the richest 10 percent in the world were responsible for 52 percent of the cumulative carbon emissions.

Within countries, risks stemming from climate change are greater for people who are already discriminated against, including indigenous peoples.

Woman sitting on the edge of a bed holding a baby. The floor is flooded.

The way forward: RFSU's position

  • First of all, addressing the climate crisis is about addressing the root causes of inequities; it requires fundamental shifts in distribution of resources, voice, and decision–making power among countries and across societies.
  • Human rights and gender equality and an intention to alleviate existing inequalities must be at the centre of the efforts to address the climate crisis.
  • SRHR play a crucial role in overcoming inequalities and advancing gender equality and access to SRHR must therefore be part of a comprehensive response to the climate crisis.
  • Climate policy processes should be inclusive. Climate action requires the meaningful participation of civil society and communities affected by the climate crisis.
  • More evidence is needed on how the climate crisis may negatively affect the realisation of SRHR, as well as on how SRHR may positively contribute to adaptation and resilience.
Illustration of a mountain
Design & illustration by Nahal Sheikh

To find out more about what the experiences are of RFSU's partners, read more about Klahaan in Cambodia and Q-initative in Kenya (pdf).

Finally: contraception must never be a strategy for climate change mitigation

Different stakeholders have pointed to contraception as an important intervention for climate change mitigation. The argument is that lowering population growth will lead to decreased levels of greenhouse gas emissions. The predominant focus of such narratives is the fertility of women and girls in lower income countries, where rates of fertility are comparatively high.

Promotion of contraception as a solution for climate change instrumentalizes women's and girls' bodies and places emphasis and responsibility for tackling the climate crisis on those that are the least responsible for contributing to it. It is a deeply unjust and harmful distraction from countries' responsibilities to address the structural drivers of the climate crisis. The urgency of the climate crisis must not serve as justification for coercive population control narratives or policies.

Illustration/collage of a tree on a map
Design & illustration by Nahal Sheikh

This article is a summary of RFSU's SRHR and the climate crisis brief (pdf). To read more about RFSU's and our partners' work on the connection between SRHR and the climate crises, take a look at Voices from our civil society partners on Earth Day or visit our partner ARROW's climate site. Other resources on the topic include the position of our European network Countdown2030Europe and the position of our global network International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF).