A woman grasps her child in the wake of Cyclone Aila in West Bengal in 2009. (Photo: Reuters)
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When Climate Change Wreaks Havoc, Women Are Hit the Hardest

“Women’s issues need to be a critical part of climate policy discussions so that women are not treated merely as a special interest group,” Nisha Onta, a gender and climate expert from Bangkok, said recently. Onta made the remarks at the 5th Asia Pacific Climate Change Adaptation Forum held in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

As extreme weather events become more frequent, destroying homes and lives, their impact is felt more by some communities than the other. What often goes ignored is the fact that even within these communities women are affected more than men. A report by United Nations states that women are more vulnerable as they constitute the majority of the world’s poor. They are also more dependent on natural resources for their livelihood, the report adds.

Chanda Gurung Goodrich, Senior Gender Specialist, International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development under the initiative Himalayan Adaptation, Nepal. (Photo Courtesy: Farshad Usyan)
Chanda Gurung Goodrich, Senior Gender Specialist, International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development under the initiative Himalayan Adaptation, Nepal. (Photo Courtesy: Farshad Usyan)

Women in South Asia often come from patriarchal set-ups where their decision-making and economic powers are very low. This reduces their coping capacity in the event of a crisis. Furthermore, in most rural communities women are responsible for fetching water and firewood over long distances. With both these resources becoming scarce due to climate change they now have to walk longer distances.

Thus it becomes even more important to work on climate policies which are gender inclusive. As women play a huge role in their households and communities they can become agents of change for both adaptation and mitigation. This could also potentially lead to their empowerment.

When it comes to climate change impact, agriculture is one of the worst-hit sectors. This threatens food security at a very large scale. The UN report also indicates that women farmers account for 45-80 percent of the total population involved in farming in developing nations.

After floods, land in the Sundarbans in West Bengal becomes saturated with salt, rendering it barren. (Photo: Manon Verchot/The Quint)
After floods, land in the Sundarbans in West Bengal becomes saturated with salt, rendering it barren. (Photo: Manon Verchot/The Quint)

Agriculture plays a critical part in the Indian economy, contributing as much as 16 percent to the GDP. According to a latest estimate, over 58 percent of rural households are into farming. It is their only source of livelihood. As a large majority of these farmers are women their only source of income and food. What also needs to be noted though, is that these women are not owners of land but work as agricultural labourers in most cases. This puts them in a very disadvantaged position both socially and economically. Climate change only exacerbates the problem.

So the fight somewhere becomes one of climate justice and equity. Not only do we need to think of adapting to the various environmental challenges before us we need to do so in an inclusive manner. However, when looking for solutions we need to keep in mind the complexities that exist in different communities and cultures. As rightly pointed out by one of the experts at the Asia Pacific Climate Change Adaptation Forum, we don’t want to create new problems while trying to solve others. She shared one such experience of hers. After a typhoon in the Philippines, resettlement claims were given out to women. This resulted in men withdrawing financial support from the households.

It is therefore necessary for us to look beyond the obvious. Involving more women at every stage is important. But even more important is to understand their situations and over-simplifying the issues at hand.

(Parul Tewari is a Senior Research Associate with the Centre for Science and Environment. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)