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Climate litigation in Southern Africa: a tool for promoting gender equality and planetary health

By Sanita Van Wyk

Climate litigation leads to greater state adherence to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and contributes to the global promotion of gender equality and planetary health.

The connection between gender equality and planetary health is established and advancing both themes can positively reinforce each other. But what role can climate litigation play in promoting both gender equality and planetary health? In answering this question, I focus on my experience with the emerging field of climate litigation.

Firstly, the development of climate litigation requires an interdisciplinary approach as the institution of lawsuits and the ultimate impact of court decisions are relevant to fields of law and sociology, environmental science, political science and economic science.

Secondly, climate lawsuits are centered around considerations of sustainable development. This is because these lawsuits are based on scientific evidence, and courts endeavor to balance economic, social, and environmental considerations when formulating effective decisions.

Finally, the development of climate litigation serves to enhance general political incentive as states are judicially obligated to take climate action within their borders as well as to co-operate on regional and international platforms.

From this perspective, it becomes evident that the interdisciplinary nature of climate litigation can play an important role in advancing SDGs, including the goals of serving climate action and gender equality.

It is against this backdrop that I examine gender aspects in climate litigation within the region of Southern Africa. Climate change and related policies growing from climate litigation have wide-ranging effects in poorer, rural areas within this region. Within developing countries such as South Africa and Namibia, it is evident how the social condition of gender affects the exposure of women and girls to climate change impacts. In Southern Africa, climate change impacts are generally felt more strongly by women and girls, due to factors such as the division of labor in households, a lack of access to education, and exclusion in decision-making processes related to climate change adaptation and mitigation.

Without achieving gender equality in regions such as Southern Africa, the global attainment of the SDGs will not be possible. Therefore, it is necessary to position gender justice as a component of climate litigation within this region.

It becomes important not only to consider gender aspects in climate litigation but to measure and improve the actual attainment of procedural environmental rights for women and girls in Southern Africa. This means that we must measure the attainment of access to information, public participation, and access to justice for women and girls in Southern Africa, specifically within the context of climate litigation. It can be submitted that a climate response through litigation, which is sensitive to gender equality and aims to promote gender equality through boosting access to procedural rights for women and girls, will boost the implementation of the SDGs and promote planetary health.

About the Author : Dr. Sanita van Wyk is a mentee at Women Leaders for Planetary Health. She works as a Postdoctoral Fellow in International Environmental Law and as a Lecturer of Law at Stellenbosch University in South Africa. She is also a qualified Attorney of the High Court of South Africa. She was previously a researcher at the Berlin Centre of Caspian Region Environmental and Energy Studies (CREES) at Freie Universität Berlin in Germany and is the author of the book entitled: The Impact of Climate Change Law on the Principle of State Sovereignty over Natural Resources ( Her primary fields of research include international law, comparative law and environmental law (including sustainable development, climate change and climate litigation in the European Union and Southern Africa). E-mail: It is the Author’s ongoing intention to conduct innovative climate law research and develop as an independent thought-leader in academia. She is inspired to build a future in which climate law research contributes to the wider economy and society by resulting in effective climate action. Such climate action includes the promotion of climate litigation to serve the SDGs and the promotion of planetary health.

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