A report by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) highlights that as the impact of climate change increases, violence and sexual violence against women and girls also increase.

As reported in The Guardian, Cate Owren, one of the IUCN report’s lead authors, stated that, “the evidence shows that, where environmental pressures increase, gender-based violence increases.”

While gender-based violence occurs for all genders, the term is often used—as Owren does here—to mean violence against women. This includes domestic violence, rape, forced or child marriage, prostitution and sex trafficking.


“Gender-based violence is one of the most pervasive but least talked-about barriers that face us in conservation and climate work,” Owren continues. “We need to take the blinders off, and pay this concerted attention.”

Owren’s comments about “least talked-about barriers” and “blinders” hint at the psychology behind the anti-feminine violence. Whenever an unwillingness to talk about or even perceive an issue exists, shame also exists.

Dividing line

Shame is the dividing line between the aspects of ourselves we embrace and the aspects we hide because we’d rather ignore them—between our conscious and unconscious selves.

Patriarchal societies have traditionally embraced masculine qualities such as strength and intellect; conversely, feminine qualities such as the emotions and sexuality have been denied, suppressed and ultimately repressed as shameful.

This division originates in the drought, desertification and famine that gave rise to patriarchy in the Sahara, Arabia and Central Asia some 6,000 years ago.

In the quest for survival, environmental stress deeply skews the human psyche away from its feminine, right brain, nurturing aspects towards masculine, left brain, hunter-killer functioning.

In the quest for survival, environmental stress—or, in the parlance of the anxiety-riddled 21st century, eco-anxiety—deeply skews the human psyche away from its feminine, right brain, nurturing aspects towards masculine, left brain, hunter-killer functioning.

Profound disturbances

Geographer James DeMeo writes in Saharasia that environmental stress creates “a general intolerance and anxious aggressivity [sic] towards the basic biological expressions of… touching and body contact… Prolonged famine and starvation produce profound disturbances in the capacity for… sexual expression.”

With survival at stake, men feel an increased urge to reproduce—yet they also feel ashamed of engaging their own feminine side by having sex. This means sex is both deeply desired yet—simultaneously—deeply shameful and painful.

The result is a set of social practices—see the gender-based violence definition above—that allow men to have sex without engaging with women as emotional equals, and to vent their feelings of pain and shame through domestic violence.

This underlies historical gender inequality and, as the IUCN report shows, is worsening where the effects of climate change are most noticeable.


Mary Robinson, chair of The Elders, an international group of senior leaders, states: “Tackling climate change and environmental degradation without the full inclusion of women will not succeed; gender equality is a prerequisite to the collective effort needed to address the climate emergency.”

The prerequisite to gender equality, in turn, is the conscious recognition of the way shame—particularly sexual shame—created our patriarchal, emotionally and environmentally irresponsible world. The history of the last 6,000 years suggests that patriarchy is unlikely to go down without a fight.

Ethan McArthur