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OPINION: Improving women’s access to contraception can help them tackle climate impacts

by Salimata Cisse | MSI Reproductive Choices
Tuesday, 10 August 2021 23:41 GMT

A woman counts money at the beach fish market opposite Dakar boat island, Senegal December 18, 2016. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Providing sexual and reproductive health services can free women to support their families when they most need to, as climate impacts make life more uncertain

Salimata Cisse is Senegal country director for MSI Reproductive Choices.

You wouldn’t think it by looking at the crumbling buildings jotted along the of shore of Guet Ndar in Saint Louis, Senegal, but this coastal town was once the centre of a bustling fishing community.

The town was once the lifeblood of fisherwomen like Fatou – a pseudonym - but the sea has swept away her home and her life.

Caught between the ever-encroaching Atlantic and the flood-prone Senegal River, increasingly severe weather spurred by climate change has driven her away, along with her husband, son and four daughters, and cost them their livelihoods and hopes for the future.

Without insurance, like many others, Fatou had to repurchase what they lost in the flood and relocate over 10 kilometres away to Diougop, a makeshift camp with 200 other families whose lives have also been decimated by the sea.

Arid and dry, it is hard to eke out a living in the place she now calls home, but slowly the family has been able to piece their lives back together.

As her family income dried up and with several mouths to feed, the last thing she would have wanted in her situation would have been becoming pregnant again.

But four years ago, with help from MSI Reproductive Choices, Fatou chose to be fitted with Jadelle, a contraceptive implant. This helped her to rest between births and choose when or if she wanted more children.

More importantly, at a time when her family faced homelessness, she was able to help her them regain what they had lost and get their lives and income back on track.

But the situation is bleaker for other women who have been forced from their homes.

As the climate change crisis worsens, thousands more people from Guet Ndar will flee the rising tides in coming years. Many of these will be women suddenly unable to access the contraceptives and reproductive services that could help protect them and their families from losses to climate shocks.

Even if they were able to access clinics before disasters struck, many are unable to access services far from home - so many of these women are denied access to sexual and reproductive services at a time when they need it the most.

Of the 26 million people who have been displaced by climate change across the world, many are women at risk of abuse, exploitation, and sexual violence – all situations that increase their chances of becoming pregnant against their wishes.

With three-quarters of Senegal’s coastline at risk of being claimed by the sea by 2080, it’s likely that many more women will face a similar situation.

But this doesn’t have to be their fate. We must reach more of these women to help them escape the clutches of poverty. Women can affect change and are often the best placed to find solutions to deal with climate change impacts.

Women can play a vital role in the fight against issues like coastal erosion and flooding. But far too often they’re ignored by those in power and not given the ability to control their reproductive choices for the benefit of themselves and those around them.

While Fatou and her family no longer live in Guet Ndar, she travels back every day to sell fish, gain an income and feed her daughters. Their lives are still difficult but things have improved.

Although the ocean is overfished, and fish stocks have plummeted in recent years, she is still able to provide for her family when they’ve needed it the most.

We cannot tackle climate change unless women are more involved in its solutions. To help communities build resilience against the coming tide of climate impacts, we must improve women’s access to contraceptives and reproductive services.