In order to leave no one behind, we must ask, “who is the most vulnerable?”. Intersectionality is crucial as diverse experiences can aid in bridging gaps to mitigating climate risks.
By Vivek D’souza
Policy and Advocacy Coordinator, The QKnit
Since the adoption of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development Programme of Action (ICPD PoA) in Cairo, conversations addressing emerging population and development issues and providing access to education, health, and family planning services to local communities have been ongoing. Global efforts around sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR) have been extraordinary thanks to the dedication and commitment by so many engaged in international advocacy. But despite the slow yet steady progress, major gaps around commitments to sexual rights and health interventions require priority attention from regional, national, and sub-national governments in order to end discrimination and uphold gender equality.
The 2018 Pre-Asia Pacific Population Conference (APPC) Youth Forum and the CSO forum preceded the Mid Term Review of the Ministerial Declaration on Population and Development in Bangkok where young people identified distinct interlinkages between SRHR and the ICPD PoA, The Beijing Platform for Action, and the Agenda 2030. Some of the overarching issues revolved around inequalities, lack of access to education and healthcare services, conflict and natural disasters, climate extreme events, and most importantly, the lack of disaggregated data based on age, sex, gender, ability, and sexual orientation to inform public policy.
Much needs to be done to bring different stakeholders together in support of SRHR. But a truly holistic approach to leveraging the global agreements is by integrating them to climate change mitigation strategies by asking, “Who is the most vulnerable?” For policy to benefit the most marginalised communities, meaningful stakeholder engagement through collaborative partnerships which goes beyond the purview of the government is integral to achieving the SDGs by 2030. Policymakers and practitioners should realise, acknowledge the importance of, and work together with multiple stakeholders and human rights defenders who play a key role in reducing vulnerabilities.
Locating Climate Change in the Asia-Pacific – Vulnerabilities, Risks and Gaps in accessing SRH Services:
The Asia-Pacific region is highly diverse in its size, population, political frameworks, economic and governance structures, religious, socio-cultural, traditional, ethnic practices, and languages. However, since a majority of the region falls within the tropical climate zone and is growing rapidly in terms of urban growth, it is also extremely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change as events ranging from monsoons, droughts, flooding, landslides, hurricanes, and Tsunamis are pertinent across countries. Furthermore, failure to provide access to health services in fragile states like Timor-Leste, Afghanistan, and Myanmar act as barriers to achieving the highest attainable sexual and reproductive health.
Small island states in Pacific have the highest proportion of their population affected by climate-induced displacement. In Kiribati, heatwaves and rising sea levels have forced locals to move away from coastlines. States like Tuvalu, Nauru, Vanuatu, and Samoa face similar crises and are on the verge of disappearing in the next 50 years because of sea-level rise. Fijians, especially young girls, women, and LGBTQ+ people are at a greater risk of harassment, molestation, sexual violence and rape when they are displaced and cannot access SRH services like contraceptives, Antiretroviral Treatment (ART), and therapy.
In countries where livelihoods depend on agriculture, extreme temperatures, desertification, irregular monsoons, cropping patterns, unproductive land, and pests have affected food production, supply, and security. Climate change has disrupted availability, accessibility, and affected the quality of food. In Vietnam, ocean acidification and rising sea levels have caused flooding in the low-lying areas while irregular monsoons have triggered droughts especially in the hottest months of the year. Similarly, in India, farmers and small-scale agricultural businesses find it difficult to foresee, cope, and adapt to climatic variations. Many of them are in debt and continue to commit suicide as their means of survival is at stake.
In the hilly regions of Bhutan and Nepal, climate change manifests in different ways as communities are exposed to earthquakes, landslides caused by rain and glacial melting, and flooding every year. Strong winds coupled with erratic and unpredictable weather patterns have left the Himalayan region the most environmentally vulnerable in the world. Indigenous communities living around the belt do not have access to primary health centres and camps that provide HIV/AIDS testing, treatment and other SRH services.
In post-conflict states like Myanmar and Afghanistan, very little is known about the effects of displacement on the provision of SRH services. When political and economic stability is highly fragile, forms of collective violence like organised crime, warfare, torture, genocide and existing socioeconomic disparities often brought about by migration and displacement causes indirect health effects and mental health disorders. Such conditions accelerate the risks associated with increased sexually transmitted infections, HIV/AIDS, and gender-based violence and an increased threat to human security.
Furthermore, LGBTQ+ people and young key populations especially people living with HIV (PLHIV) are not included in disaster recovery and response. In the wake of a natural disaster, they find it extremely difficult to avail of therapy, medication, contraceptives, and sanitary pads if moved, relocated, or rehabilitated. Many do not disclose their identity or status because of stigma, discrimination, and violence and while their agency, autonomy, and social security are compromised, they are at a risk of being repatriated without proper care and treatment procedures.
From these situations, it is understood that identities are complex, they intersect and overlap. But when we do not take into account the overlapping, people marginalised by the intersection of power structures are not understood and neglected. Therefore, it is important to emphasise that inequalities among and within different identities and communities in the Asia-Pacific region are based on different intersectional experiences (caste, class, gender, sexual orientation, ability, age, status) and that their cumulative risk associated with their vulnerabilities are a result of their lack of access to rights, protection, and basic services. It is precisely these groups who will feel the direct brunt of climate change in the coming decades.
Intersectionality – A Multi-Sectoral and Multi-Stakeholder Approach:
Climate change is real and affects us all. But most importantly, it impacts marginalised groups who are at a greater risk of exposure. It is apparent that communities who have access to knowledge, information, resources, and mobility are better equipped to tackle and mitigate climate risks. However, groups that contribute less to global emissions and most impacted by systemic oppression are being hit the hardest by climate change. Clearly, climate change is intersectional and in order to build long-lasting resilience, the Asia-Pacific region should address human vulnerability and gender inequality.
While national and state policies are shaped around globally accepted agreements, the urgency to implement at the local is highly imperative. Despite socio-cultural barriers, countries like Nepal (where abortion is legalised) and India (that has introduced CSE through life skills education into its curricula) have already started leading the way and serve as examples to others. This includes a number of neighbouring states that are starting to build healthy ties formed during the negotiation processes and looking for state-specific best practices. However, a push towards harnessing political and economic will on the part of local authorities needs to take centre stage by integrating SRH service provisioning to climate change. Simply put, the SRH needs of young people need to be recognised within the broader framework of climate change.
Leveraging the ICPD PoA, Beijing Platform for Action, the Agenda 2030 goals, and the Paris Agreement including many global agreements require a shift in practice methods from all sectors and stakeholders including governance mechanisms. Development justice should demand to prioritise inclusive organising and integrating diverse identities. The success of leveraging the ICPD PoA with the SDGs means ensuring equal opportunity, access, and participation from all the benefactors of SRHR (children, youth, women, elderly, homeless, orphans, indigenous people, religious minorities, sexual minority groups, PLHIV, persons with disabilities, sex workers, young key populations, migrants and stateless people, and refugees) including self-help groups, communities, and local authorities. Together, regional, national and sub-national governments can strive to achieve the SDGs as part of a larger transition into the era of sustainable development.
Vivek D’souza is a queer activist in Mumbai, supporting LGBTQ spaces in addressing queer rights activism and offering advocacy on gender, sex, and sexuality. He has worked for several grassroots movements locally and regionally, and has contributed to several United Nations processes. Currently, Vivek is an Urban Fellow at the Indian Institute for Human Settlements, Bangalore studying on issues of urbanisation, development, governance and climate change. He has a Master’s degree in Politics from the Dept. of Civics and Politics, University of Mumbai.
 Narratives of SRHR and Climate Change are inputs brought out during the world cafe negotiations by youth delegates during the APPC Youth Forum