The climate crisis is now a key contributor to the inflammation of tensions. Influential research conducted found that for every one degree increase in temperature, conflict increases between groups by 11.3% (Burke, Hsiang, and Miguel).
Climate change related droughts, floods, and other environmental disasters exacerbate resource scarcity that are often at the heart of these conflicts, especially if they involve agropastoral groups, where the probability of conflict increases by 54% with every one degree increase in temperature. Climate disasters wipe out whole sources of livelihood for families, who then become internally displaced in search for economic opportunities or have no other choice but to join armed groups for their protection.
On top of this, the impact of climate insecurity induced conflict for women is enormous, and the women who sit at the intersection of these issues are often an afterthought.
The unpaid care burden
Climate insecurity is inextricably linked with increased experiences of gender-based violence. It threatens women’s productive resources (such as farmland) and this causes their further subordination in society as they lose their sources of livelihood. Given failure of institutions caused by wartime and enduring patriarchal norms, women are not supported by state welfare provision to adapt to climate change.
Within this, one issue that receives even less attention is the impact of conflict on women and young girl’s unpaid care burdens. Unpaid care work is defined as “all unpaid services provided within a household to its members, including care of persons, households, and voluntary community work” (Elson, 2000). In short, unpaid care work is essentially chores, childcare, and other work related to the household.
Framing this work as labour counters enduring gender norms that constantly devalue domestic and reproductive work. It enables us to see how time spent doing unpaid care work is translating into actual inequalities by making women time-poor, forcing them to forego employment and education to keep up with this care burden.
As men are absorbed into the conflict as fighters or even casualties of the conflict, women’s unpaid care burdens can increase exponentially as they become forced to take on more roles- oftentimes becoming the sole breadwinner of the family.
Experiences of women in Puntland, Somalia
Puntland exemplifies the intersection between climate, conflict, and women’s unpaid care burdens.
Somalia is currently in a decades-long civil war that has completely fragmented its society. Puntland is a semi-arid region making up a third Somalia’s landmass and has a large population of agropastoralists who have been very impacted by harsh weather conditions, such as drought and floods, which have caused mass displacement and loss of livelihoods. As a result, it has become a site of further political upheaval and conflict.
Women in Puntland have disproportionate water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) responsibilities as part of their care burden. Some of these responsibilities include water collection, maintaining hygiene and cleanliness, and more. Within that, water collection is the most important - a physically demanding task requiring them to travel far distances to access water points. This can be complicated by other natural disasters that can contaminate water points, forcing them to travel even further to access sanitary water.