If Malawi continues on its current development trajectory, another 4 million people will be driven into extreme poverty due to climate change by 2040, according to the World Bank. Malawi is highly vulnerable to climate change which causes extreme and erratic weather events.
The devastating effects of droughts and floods have intensified over the past two decades, causing significant damage to the environment, society, and economy. The country heavily relies on rain-fed agriculture, with approximately 90% of the population dependent on it. However, rising temperatures, unpredictable rainfall, and severe weather events such as cyclones have had a detrimental effect on food production, leading to skyrocketing costs.
Women and girls at greater risk due to climate crisis
This hits women particularly hard who, according to World Bank statistics, make up 65% of smallholder farmers in Malawi. Girls are also vulnerable with climate change directly putting an estimated 1.5 million at risk of forced child marriage and with girls being pressured to drop out of school and pursue employment opportunities which often end up trapping them in exploitation.
In Malawi, women and girls are the traditional gatherers of water and firewood. Climate change has led to a need to travel further and further to find supplies leaving them vulnerable to trafficking.
Equality Now reports,
For the vast majority of victims of trafficking, sexual violence, and exploitation, justice goes unserved. Caleb Ng’ombo runs People Serving Girls at Risk (PSGR), a frontline organization in Malawi that works to end human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation, prostitution, and child marriages. Caleb explains, “Victims are being failed by Malawi’s criminal justice system. Few cases make it to court. Those that do are plagued by multiple delays, and perpetrators are rarely punished.”
“Child marriage, sexual exploitation, and trafficking have blighted the lives of thousands of women and girls across Malawi, and the worsening climate crisis is putting more at greater risk. The government should not turn a blind eye to gender-based human rights violations. Addressing these problems must be central to climate response, including disaster and adaption planning.”
Gender sensitive, climate justice approach needed
While the government of Malawi has a lot of work to do in terms of improving its gender sensitivity in its criminal justice system, a fundamental change required is a response from the wealthy industrialized nations responsible for the majority of global warming.
These countries continue to attend and host high profile climate meetings but have yet to meaningfully commit to financing for countries that are suffering from the effects of climate change and from crippling debt. If climate change is not effectively addressed, forced labor and human trafficking will only continue increasing.
We must stand together to put people and the planet first so that profit is no longer made from forced labor, human trafficking and environmental devastation.
Freedom United is urgently calling on the Secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to ensure that the just transition and responses to the climate emergency advance the human rights agenda.