When women double up as climate ambassadors - GulfToday

When women double up as climate ambassadors

Meena Janardhan

Writer/Editor/Consultant. She has over 25 years of experience in the fields of environmental journalism and publishing.

Writer/Editor/Consultant. She has over 25 years of experience in the fields of environmental journalism and publishing.

India Pollution

The photo has been used for illustrative purposes.

People in the coastal districts of the eastern Indian state of Odisha are increasingly suffering from the effects of climate change. A recent study by a local non-governmental organization, the Regional Centre for Development Cooperation (RCDC), points out that most households in the area are dependent on natural resources for their livelihoods from fishing, forest foraging and paddy cultivation. Despite the area’s past high productivity in agriculture and fisheries, population pressure and a breakdown in weather patterns have inflicted serious damage on coastal ecosystems and the well-being of the local population, pushing many rural households below the poverty line.

But men and women have not been equally affected by the changes. Unsurprisingly, the study, which has been highlighted by the UN Environment has shown that structural inequality between women and men – further deepened by wealth status, ethnicity, age and location – meant that poor women, children, the elderly and disabled were the worst affected by the climate crisis and natural disasters. In particular, women were found to be more exposed to social tensions, malnutrition and increased workload.

The study stresses on three ways women that are affected differently by the climate emergency.

First, while both women and men lose income from subsistence farming and agricultural labour due to increasing salinity of land and water, their coping mechanisms are quite different. Men leave the village to find seasonal work, but women stay behind, taking on additional income-generating activities, along with their overfull packet of domestic and care-related tasks.

Second, because of waterlogging and loss of flora and mangrove forests, women also have to travel further to find drinking water and forage for fuel, fodder and other forest products which earn them income. Their foray into the forest exposes them to animal attacks and fuels conflicts with forest officers.

Finally, women in the area were found to have nutritional deficiencies as they replaced nutritious traditional foods with cash crops such as hybrid rice, maize and cotton.

As a result of the study, the RCDC took steps to ensure that women and the poorest groups are no longer left behind in the community-based management and decision-making processes.

As a first step, local committees were formed with an equal number of local women and men. A task force for disaster response was established, consisting of an equal number of women and men trained in early warning, search and rescue, first aid, water and sanitation, and shelter management.

Experts in low-input organic farming helped with the creation of organic homestead gardens, providing local seeds and helping in the production of organic manure and bio-pesticides.

The Regional Centre then helped set up “floating gardens” – a micro-farm made by using a bamboo framework and a culture bed with local materials. The innovation was designed with women-headed and landless households in mind, to allow them to grow food and generate income during the lean period.

These innovations were followed by the introduction of fuel-efficient cooking stoves and training on assessing climate change risks, inclusive and gender-responsive community consultations, and empowerment of women and other marginalized people in the community. Adolescent girls responded enthusiastically to these trainings.

The Odisha study reveals how climate change deepens existing gender inequality and further perpetuates it by limiting the weakest groups’ access to information, relief, technology and skills to influence climate change policy and actions. In most coastal villages, women have very limited decision-making power and hardly participate in the community planning process.

The focus on gender issues and livelihoods in Odisha is one of three case studies highlighted in a new UN Environment report titled ‘Gender Mainstreaming in the Management of the Marine and Coastal Ecosystems’. UN Environment introduced the case studies at an event in New York organised by the United Nations Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea. The event was timed to coincide with World Oceans Day on 8 June 2019, and its theme of “Gender and the Ocean”.

The theme was an opportunity to explore the gender dimension of humankind’s relationship with the ocean. Gender equality is the equal valuing by society of both the similarities and the differences between women and men and the different roles they play.

The importance of gender equality, in particular for the effective conservation and sustainable use of oceans, seas and marine resources is increasingly being recognized. However, there is very little data and research on these issues, and a concerted action towards gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls is still needed in all ocean-related sectors to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 5.

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