Climate change and reproductive rights are thought of as separate and distinct issues, but they’re more interrelated than people realize: An estimated 14 million women and girls are at risk of losing access to contraception and other options to control their health in the next decade because of climate-related disruptions, according to a new analysis from international reproductive health organization MSI Reproductive Choices.
Since 2011, about 11.5 million women in 26 countries at least temporarily lost contraception access because of climate change-related displacement, like being forced to migrate after climate change effects destroyed their homes. The modeling by MSI Reproductive Choices used data from countries across Asia, South America, Oceania, and Africa: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Kenya, Madagascar, Mali, Malawi, Myanmar, Nepal, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Timor-Leste, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Uganda, Yemen, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
If the effects of climate change aren’t halted and reproductive choice isn’t protected, this could lead to 6.2 million more unintended pregnancies, 2.1 million unsafe abortions and at least 5,800 maternal deaths in these countries alone, according to the reproductive health organization’s modeling.
The reproductive healthcare of climate refugees is critical, as one in five displaced women experience sexual violence while in “complex humanitarian settings.” The researchers from that study say the number of likely much higher, and there will be “long-term health consequences” for the survivor as well as “social consequences” for their families.
MSI Reproductive Choices’s report echoes what the United Nations has long warned about: The people most at risk from climate change are among the smallest contributors to it. Women are positioned to inherit the worst effects of a warming planet—910,000,000, or 70 percent of the 1.3 billion people living in poverty, are women. Even more distressing is the fact that women make up a higher percentage of poor communities dependent on natural resources, which are likely to be altered by our changing planet.
It can’t be stated enough: The effects of climate change will be vast and cruel. And as our way of life slowly changes, the burden is likely to fall disproportionately on vulnerable populations, including low-income women, unless we take significant steps to prepare for and mitigate this disaster.