> Development > Climate change  
Manoshi Goswami
Date of Publish: 2017-05-25

Gendering the Actions- A New Way to tackle Climate Change



It becomes very hard for us to manage our daily chores” – said Ramila Dutta, while describing the hurdles of water scarcity in a rural woman’s life. She works as a daily wage worker in a remote village in Assam’s Sivasagar district. For last few years in a row, she, along with her fellow villagers are facing massive water scarcity during the lean season and need to cross the steep embankments of the river Dikhow, to fetch the water required at their homes. They carry their buckets and pitchers along with piles of dirty clothes for washing. To make the matters worse, the Public Health Engineering Department supplies water for a very short duration, leaving no other options than to go to the river. But, their experiences say that the situation was not the same 15-20 years back.

“Situations become very uncomfortable for the ladies during floods. We have to take shelter in schools or embankments, without any facility for proper toilets. Sometimes, we have to wait till dark to get ourselves relaxed. Matters get worse, when we are in our menstrual cycles.” – shared Jaytun Bibi, a lady member from Baitamari Panchayat area in Bongaigaon district while discussing various gender specific issues during climate linked disasters.

For Kong Aiti, who earns her livelihood by selling roasted maize cobs on the roadside towards Sohra, Meghalaya, things are getting costlier to manage her day to day needs. She speaks on how a devastating landslide has taken away her home, leaving her family homeless. The vagaries of the weather in otherwise pleasant state of Meghalaya are to be blamed for, opines Kong Mimi, as she shyly shares her sad story.

Ramila Dutta or Jaytun Bibi or Kong Aiti, wherever they belong to, are the receivers of the impacts from what we call climate induced disasters. With the changing patterns of climate, often part of the greater global changes, such disasters are becoming more intense, both locally and globally. While the issues of global warming and climate change are no longer alien for us the gender dimensions of the same have yet not been recognised well. Most often we fail to consider how the changing climate can contribute to increase the burden over the women stakeholders of the society. In fact, the current discourse of climate change, climatic anomalies have been recognised as significant negative factors of gender equality and is also expected to be more catastrophic for women than men under the same environments.

Any unfavourable condition or disaster results in increased risks for women; thanks to the social and economic stratifications. Under the existing social system prevalent in most part of the nation along with the north-eastern region, lesser access to resources and opportunities as well as less decision-making power and lack of ownership rights, make women comparatively more vulnerable to any unforeseen events. For example, during flood, women undergo severe health related stresses due to lack of proper sanitation and hygienic conditions. Absence of basic amenities like toilets and washrooms pose serious threats to their health. The situations are worse for pregnant ladies, menstruating women, lactating mothers as well as aged women. Similarly, drought is a condition which increases the burden of work on women. They need to go a long way to fetch water, under the compulsion of managing the basic needs of food and water for the family. Further, displacement caused by such disasters force populations to migrate in search of livelihood and shelter, which also increases the security risks for women. Threats like rape, violence, abuse, risks of trafficking increase under such circumstances increasing the challenges ahead of women.

Changing climate also robs women of their livelihoods, the alternate and supplementary ones they maintain to support their family. Most of the time, in places like Assam as well as in North East, women resort to animal husbandry, sericulture etc. as means of alternative income. But, climate change poses threats to all of them, either directly or indirectly. Pigs, goats, poultry are washed away by flood, sericulture suffers loss due to altered temperature and rainfall, savings are lost while managing the needs of the family. In Assam itself, decline has been reported in its glorious sericulture industry due to the changing climate. Loss of livelihood of women farmers from Meghalaya have also been reported in various studies conducted. Thus, they become more and more exposed to the economic threats and burdens of weather anomalies.

Although, very recently, governments and decision makers are considering adaptation as an important strategy to deal with the threats of climate change, gender concerns and aspects are yet to be fully mainstreamed in to the policies and initiatives. Isolated attempts of alternative livelihoods for women as contingency measures, as are being adopted currently, will not serve the purpose of developing climate resilience, unless the gender specific issues and concerns are integrated in to the developmental policies. To do so, what we or the decision makers need to understand is that, gender parity is an inevitable condition for achieving climate resilience and hence demands pragmatic approaches on the policy fronts. But, to arrive there, we need to hear them first while taking decisions. They are needed to be make a party to the decision-making process; unlike the existing systems, where the half of the population do not get the opportunity to exercise their rights to speak or rights to share opinions. Unless with succeed to do the same, we will not be able to include the inputs, experiences and opinions of the highly crucial stakeholders of development.

Under such circumstances, we cannot certainly expect to be climate change ready, with concerns of half of the stakeholders not being considered and integrated in to the planning. The more rapidly the same has been realised and actions are initiated to mainstream the gender perspectives, the higher will be our chances to develop climate resilient economy and society.

May be listening to the voices of women like Ramila Dutta, Jaytun Bibi or Kong Aiti may lead us to achieve that better and faster!

Manoshi Goswami

(Manoshi Goswami is an environmental researcher and science communicator based at Guwahati. She is interested in studying climate change concerns of the region and strongly believes in rational and scientific thinking. Opinions expressed here are personal.)


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