Women agents of transformational change - GulfToday

Women agents of transformational change

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.

A woman participates in a rally during International Women's Day celebrations in Bogota, Colombia. Reuters

A woman participates in a rally during International Women's Day celebrations in Bogota, Colombia. Reuters

The world celebrated women on March 8 —  and brought back into focus the strength of the women and their varied roles. One such invaluable and inextricably linked role is that of women and the environment.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) states that women have unique knowledge and responsibilities in the sustainable use and conservation of biodiversity, and they are agents of transformational change. At the same time, women rely on healthy ecosystems to feed their families, and, as such, are heavily affected by environmental degradation and disasters like flooding, biodiversity loss and climate change.

Women in rural and indigenous communities shoulder specific responsibilities to ensure the wellbeing of their families such as gathering water and firewood. In many areas, non-timber forest products are the only sources of cash available to women.

However, women’s representation in environmental decision-making processes remains insufficient and their access to and management of land and marine resources can be severely limited.

This year, UN’s theme for International Women’s Day (8 March), ‘Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow’, explored the ways in which women and girls are leading the charge on climate change adaptation, mitigation, and response around the world, contributing powerful leaders and change-makers to a more sustainable future for all.

Many unseen and unheard stories across the expanse of rural India shows how intrinsically important this role is. However, this is just a small snapshot.

A recent article in Down to Earth (DTE) brought into focus how women lead climate adaptation in eastern India’s Adivasi areas. Wattle and daub houses maintained largely by women in tribal parts of Odisha and Bengal provide cool shelter to families when temperatures soar.

The article highlights journeys through the remote villages in the tribal belts of West Bengal and Odisha that revealed how women form the core of these rural communities and lead the struggle for survival and towards climate adaptation.

An earlier DTE article highlights how the situation of rural women in the remote areas of the Himalayas — by the virtue of difficult terrain and impacts of climate change — paints a different picture. Women in the mountains are knowledgeable, independent and acutely aware of their role in the local community.

They are at the heart of the production system — they manage agriculture, food security and nutrition and natural resources. The cultural integrity of mountain areas is still more intact in comparison to their lowland counterparts, thus giving them a command on household- livelihood system.

A Mongabay-India report finds that women of the Indian Gond tribe, in a farming-dependent village in Madhya Pradesh, are collectively learning agricultural techniques and setting up a solar irrigation system to overcome the challenges of water scarcity in the dry region.

Majority of the youth has migrated out to study or work and most of the people left behind are women. Improvements in agriculture and self-reliance in farming has helped the women generate an income and the access to more crops has also improved their nutrition.

Another study states that many women farmers in coastal Odisha are growing cyclone-resilient plantations to reduce damages to their farms during disasters like cyclones.

In migration-prone districts, women deal with the lack of recognition as farmers. Several women farmers in the state have formed Self Help Groups (SHGs) and work together in farming and allied services to get financial assistance from banks to tackle inequity in recognition.

One more report by Mongabay-India states that despite global evidence that climate change-induced extreme weather events affect women disproportionately, India’s climate policies are not gender-sensitive.

Climate change-induced migrations often leave women to take care of household responsibilities and agriculture alone, increasing their burden manifold. In regions that face annual disasters like floods, women and children are at a risk of being trafficked.

Experts recommend re-looking at climate policies from a gender lens and tuning adaptation and mitigation measures accordingly. They advocate for a population-centric approach where social indicators are taken into consideration, thus catering to the high-priority and vulnerable groups.

They also underline that women’s response to disasters is different from men’s, and therefore, adaptation measures should be framed accordingly.

During the International Women’s Day official UN Observance, Secretary-General António Guterres emphasizes the important role of women and girls in fighting climate change. “We need more women environment ministers, business leaders and presidents and prime ministers.

They can push countries to address the climate crisis, develop green jobs and build a more just and sustainable world. We cannot emerge from the pandemic with the clock spinning backwards on gender equality.”

Related articles