The Silent Storm: Climate Change worsens women’s SRH in Africa

In the vast landscape of Africa, the impact of high heat on human health is becoming increasingly apparent, particularly for vulnerable populations such as women and girls. High temperatures have a range of direct and indirect effects on women’s SRH across the African continent. From exacerbating existing health conditions to increasing vulnerability to new threats, the implications are profound and far-reaching.

Amidst the daily struggles for access to basic necessities like food, water, and education, there exists a silent storm that threatens the future potential and well-being of millions of women and girls.

This storm is none other than climate change, and its detrimental impacts on sexual and reproductive health (SRH) are becoming increasingly evident.

The worst drought in over 40 years that struck East Africa in 2022 serves as a poignant example. The trickle-down effect of this drought was not limited to food scarcity and economic hardship but also resulted in a sharp increase in gender-based violence, female genital mutilation (FGM), and child marriage. These consequences are not isolated incidents but rather interconnected manifestations of the broader climate crisis.

Research from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change corroborates these observations, highlighting that women and girls bear a disproportionate burden of health risks stemming from climate change. The disruption of ecosystems, loss of livelihoods, displacement, and increased vulnerability to diseases all contribute to exacerbating existing SRH challenges.

In an interview with Mr. Hester Mkwinda Nyasulu Country Manager for Amref Health Africa in Malawi he emphasized the stark reality faced by women and girls in Africa, particularly in the wake of extreme weather events like droughts and floods.

The devastating effects of such events extend far beyond the immediate physical damage, often leading to a cascade of challenges that disproportionately affect women and girls.

On how climate change specifically affects SRH of women and girls in Africa, he shares that high temperatures worsen maternal and neonatal outcomes, saying, “climate related emergencies including high temperatures deter women and girls to access health care services especially those in hard to reach areas to walk long distances.”

Notwithstanding, Mr. Nyasulu indicates that Increased poverty and food insecurity driven by climate related puts women and girls at greater risk and vulnerable to sexual and gender-based violence.

On how extreme weather events such as droughts or floods impacts SRH services in affected communities, Mr. Nyasulu says that droughts affect women and girls access to the much-needed water for their wellbeing and menstrual health.

Also, dehydration during pregnancy can be especially devasting to both mother and child, as it can affect fetal growth, cause preterm births and increases the risk of anemia and eclampsia, he told this journalist.

Floods, Mr. Nyasulu bemoans impede women and girls to access SRH services as they are unable to cross flooding rivers and streams to go to their nearest health facilities.

“Already the existing gender inequalities is exacerbated by the climate change as it leads to increased food insecurity and poverty, making women  and girls more vulnerable and more dependent on men and boys that many times take advantage on them”, he indicates.

In Africa, he discloses that fragile and conflict-affected states especially Central Africa Republic, Mali, Somalia, Sudan and South Sudan.  Conflicts and climate change are a vicious circle that impact on each other.

“Sub Saharan Africa which most depends on rain-fed agriculture (at 95%).  Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Madagascar among the most affected leading to huge vulnerabilities in times of adverse climate shocks

“Underdeveloped and poorest African countries have challenges to prepare, response and mitigate the impacts of climate change and yet they minimally contribute to the Greenhouse gases,” he explains.

Education and Livelihood

Mr. Nyasulu went on to say that climate change negatively affect girls’ completion of primary or secondary education.  Girls and women that have not advanced in education face a lot of challenges to comprehend on issues and are likely to have more children.  They are also prone to sexual abuse and exploitation.

“Climate change negatively affects women and girls’ agricultural productivity.  This leads them to be more vulnerable to SGBV. It is related droughts prevent women and girls to access the much-needed water for the sexual and reproductive health and wellbeing,” he says.

Potential Interventions

On interventions that can be implemented to mitigate the adverse effects of climate change, Mr. Nyasulu urged that there is the need to strengthen household and community resilience to climate change in order to ensure women and girls are more empowered and enjoy their sexual and reproductive health even during climate shocks.

He also advised stakeholders to support in building resilient health systems including strong health facility structures to withstand adverse climate shocks. This, he said will ensure uninterrupted and all weather sexual and reproductive health service provision

“Strengthen the preparedness and response mechanisms at community and national levels to ensure restoration of services amid climate shocks. Support in addressing the underlying patterns of inequality and integrate SRHR in adaptation responses to strengthen resilience of especially women and girls to climate change”, he concluded.


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