My name is Katelynn Frawley, and I am a third-year student studying Philosophy and Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies at Allegheny College in the U.S. I spent this past semester studying abroad in Amsterdam through the School of International Training and concluded the program with a month-long internship at CHOICE for Youth & Sexuality. Over the past four weeks, I have conducted research on the narratives that NGOs are using to present the interlinkages of climate change and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR). This area of research is of high importance because climate change is one of the most pressing issues of our time, and specifically, it is affecting women and girls disproportionately. The SRHR of women and girls is threatened and often not met in the face of climate change. Through examining three different publications by NGOs relating climate change and SRHR as case studies, I found that they are meeting the issue in different ways. It is important to look at the ways the issue is framed, because different frames produce different discourse, knowledge, and focal points for funding and activism.
In the first case study, I determined the dominant narrative to be that SRR of women and girls are important in and of themselves which is why these rights should be integrated with climate change action and policy. The dominating narrative of the second case study is to invest in women’s and girls’ empowerment and inclusion because it is a crucial tool for climate change adaptation and mitigation. Finally, in the third case study, I concluded the dominant narrative to be that funding can be gained for family planning, a rights-based climate adaptation strategy, through the linkages of population growth, climate change, and SRHR. The case studies led me to conclude that the three publications have similar underlying values, including autonomy, agency, health, and well-being, but they have different ways of framing these values to convey their message.
In my analysis, I consider the merits and the implications of the narratives alongside theoretical ideas. First, a top-down approach such as the first case study that focuses on the effects of climate change on SRHR does more to recognize the value of SRR in and of itself than a bottom-up approach that emphasizes the benefits SRHR can have on climate change mitigation. Bottom-up approaches such as those in the final two case studies risk presenting SRHR as a co-benefit to climate change. Using environmental justice theory, I conclude that the presentation of SRHR as a co-benefit to climate change neglects injustices of recognition. In other words, there is a focus on injustices of distribution (laying out the effects of climate change on women and girls) and participation (including women and girls in climate policy and action), but little to no focus on the entrenched inequities that underly the devaluing of women’s and girls’ SRR.
Next, I analyze the usage of the population control narrative that is present throughout the second and third case studies. Using Jade Sasser’s concept of the “technicalisation of women’s rights,” I determine that the underlying values in these publications are hidden and the complexities of SRR are neglected through the use of the population control narrative. In the process of technicalisation, the dominant usage of the population control narrative reproduces a simplified narrative about the linkages between population, climate change, and SRHR. The reproduction of this knowledge narrows the understanding of SRHR to a concept of service and technology access rather than a complex and nuanced concept of rights. The use of the population control narrative in the final two publications and the technical solutions that follow, such as contraceptive access and family planning services, have consequences when it comes to having a full understanding of women’s and girls’ SRHR.
Finally, I look at the usage of “rights” language versus “services” language. While the first case study refers to SRR throughout, the second and third case studies consistently refer to sexual and reproductive health services. This difference is important because the language use creates two different frames – one that is committed to the fundamental well-being of humans that is necessary and important in itself, and one that is about meeting needs in a matter-of-fact fashion.
In conclusion, I have a few recommendations based on my research. First, in order to do justice for women and girls in the face of climate change, it is crucial to use a narrative that focuses on sexual and reproductive rights. To do so, it is necessary to maintain the complexities and nuances of these rights. Obviously sexual and reproductive health services are crucial to SRHR, but falling into discourse that only uses services language and offers only technical solutions takes away from the significance of rights.
I would also recommend to frame narratives in a way that uses and portrays the underlying values of the author. If the underlying values are self-determination and well-being, the approach to the intersection of climate change and SRHR should reflect that through discourse that is rights-based and focuses equally on all aspects of injustice.
Sasser, J. S. (2013). The wave of the future? Youth advocacy at the nexus of population and climate change. The Geographical Journal, 1-9. doi:10.1111/geoj.12023
Schlosberg, D. (2004). Reconceiving Environmental Justice: Global Movements and Political Theories. Environmental Politics, 13(3), 517-540. doi:10.1080/0964401042000229025