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The climate crisis is raising the risk of violence against women and girls, a UN human rights expert has warned.

Reem Alsalem, UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls, says socio-political and economic phenomena that arise with environmental issues – including armed conflict, displacement and resource scarcity – put more women at risk.

Climate change is “the most consequential threat multiplier for women and girls, with far-reaching impacts on new and existing forms of gendered inequities,” according to Alsalem.

“Climate change is not only an ecological crisis, but fundamentally a question of justice, prosperity and gender equality, and intrinsically linked to and influenced by structural inequality and discrimination,” she added.

Evidence shows the climate crisis aggravates all types of gender-based violence ranging from physical to psychological and economic “all the while curbing the availability and effectiveness of protection mechanisms and further weakening the potential to prevent violence,” the UN expert said.

“When slow or sudden-onset disasters strike and threaten livelihoods, communities may resort to negative coping mechanisms, such as trafficking, sexual exploitation and harmful practices like early and child marriage and drop out from schools – all of which force women and girls to choose between risk-imbued options for survival”.

In February it was reported that the havoc climate change is wreaking on farming communities in Zimbabwe is forcing young women and children into prostitution.

It is estimated hundreds of girls from the nation’s rural regions have joined the sex trade in towns and cities after droughts and flash floods destroyed their crops.

Teenager Chipo told Al Jazeera she fled to the town of Epworth after her rural home was devastated by flash floods.

Chipo, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, said: “I came at the age of 16. I could not supplement my education because of no money. Later on, I found myself joining sex work.”

Alsalem urged the international community to double down on the commitment to gender equality and anchor the response to climate change and disaster risk mitigation in human rights.

“For our concerted efforts against climate change to be truly gender sensitive and transformative, measures to address the vulnerabilities faced by women and girls must build on a recognition of their role and agency as powerful stakeholders in the policy space,” she added.

“The wellbeing and the rights of women and girls should not be an afterthought and must be placed at the centre of policies and responses”.

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