7 PM Editorial |Climate Change and Gendered Vulnerabilities: Accounting for Women and Patriarchal Systems in Climate Governance Policy| 21st April 2020

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Climate Change and Gendered Vulnerabilities: Accounting for Women and Patriarchal Systems in Climate Governance Policy

Context: Climate Change Governance and Gender and Caste Inequalities.

Climate governance policy remains strikingly ignorant of the socio-cultural context that it is embedded in and is thus unable to account for the gender and caste inequalities that are dominant in today’s patriarchal institutions.

This brings us to the question of understanding of issues not addressed by Climate Governance Policy. In this article we will discuss the following:

  • What is Climate Governance?
  • Why there is a need to include Gender in Climate governance?
  • What does World Water Development Report says about gender inequalities?
  • How women climate refugees suffer?
  • Why Caste should be included in Climate governance?
  • Conclusion

What is Climate Governance?

  • Climate governance can be defined as the purposeful mechanisms and measures aimed at steering social systems toward preventing, mitigating or adapting to the risks posed by climate change.
  • In India, climate policy first emerged as a separate policy field after 2007 by the introduction of India’s first National Action Plan for Climate Change (NAPCC), 2008.
  • Eight government missions under National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC):
    • National Solar Mission
    • National Mission for Enhanced Energy Efficiency
    • National Mission on Sustainable Habitat
    • National Water Mission
    • National Mission for Sustaining the Himalayan Ecosystem
    • National Mission for Green India
    • National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture
    • National Mission on Strategic Knowledge for Climate change
  • To further strengthen the institutional structure, a national level network known as Indian Network for Climate Change Assessment (INCCA) was established. It is a proposed network of scientists in India to be set up to publish peer-reviewed findings on climate change.
  • India’s climate policy includes a range of sector-based mitigation as well as adaptation policies and strategies.
  • Under the obligation of Paris Agreement (2015), India defined its Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs).
  • Three quantified goals are:
    • Reducing the emission-intensity of its gross domestic product (GDP) by 33%–35% (vis-à-vis 2005) by 2030.
    • Achieving 40% cumulative electric power installed capacity from non-fossil fuel-based energy resources by 2030.
    • Creating an additional carbon sink of 2.5–3 billion tones of CO2 equivalent by 2030 through additional forest and tree cover.

Why there is a need to include Gender in Climate governance?

  • Climate change is not a gender-neutral phenomenon.
  • Women in rural areas in developing countries are highly dependent on local natural resources for their livelihood, because of their responsibility to secure water, food and energy for cooking and heating. The effects of climate change, including drought, uncertain rainfall and deforestation, make it harder to secure these resources.
  • Families dependent on agriculture and labor jobs to make money, and where male migration, male-dominated labor markets, and patriarchal institutions already put stresses on families, mostly women are further stressed due to climate change.
  • Due to current changes in employment patterns where there’s been a rapid decline in men’s contribution to subsistence and family farming has brought women in the front of agriculture. This shift of males to non-farm wage employment in urban and semi-urban regions can be seen in the rural areas of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, and Kerala.
  • As per 2011 NSSO data, 79% of rural women are engaged in agriculture as against 63% of men in India, but still there is inequality in access and use of climate information by women.
  • The absence of necessary information regarding climate change and sustainable agricultural practices and access to inputs from markets, the women lacks confidence in taking decisions about agricultural work and thus is at greater risks of climate change dangers.
  • Women’s participation in farm-level decision-making is limited to contribution of labor and execution of agronomic practices like sowing, weeding, and harvesting, based on their traditional roles and experiences.

What does World Water Development Report says about gender inequalities?

  • The 2020 United NationsWorld Water Development Report focuses on the challenges, opportunities and potential responses to climate change, in terms of adaptation, mitigation and improved resilience that can be addressed through improving water management.
  • Title of 2020 report is ‘Water and Climate Change’and aims at helping the water community to tackle the challenges of climate change.
  • The report says that devastating impacts of climate change will disproportionately affect the world’s poor, which as of 2017, includes 800 million people (nearly 78% of the world’s poor) who are chronically hungry, and two billion people who suffer from micronutrient deficiencies.
  • Due to prevailing gender inequalities, the magnitude of impact on women and girls will be significantly higher and much worse.
  • Not only are women and children reported to be 14 times more likely to die than men during disasters, about 80% of the people displaced by climate change are women.
  • As per International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), environment stress and resource scarcity leads to increase in gender-based violence, which includes domestic abuse, sexual assault, rape, forced prostitution, forced marriages and higher incidence of human trafficking in naturally distressed regions.

How women climate refugees suffer?

  • According to the Government of West Bengal and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), in 2009, due to Cyclone Aila in Indian Bengal delta, approximately 9,20,000 houses were damaged and 70 lives were claimed.
  • This led to migration of approximately half of the men from the most affected blocks of the Indian Sundarbans (which is extremely vulnerable to climate change) to other parts of the country in search of alternative livelihoods. However, women were left behind with the burden of running the household and dealing with the aftermath of the cyclone.
  • There was destruction of farms due to intrusion of salt water and women couldn’t find alternative employment due to gender restrictions.
  • As per reports, several of these women from the Indian Sundarbans ended up migrating to the red-light district of Kolkata due to the climate change-induced distress. The number of women who moved to Kolkata’s red-light district increased by 20% to 25% in the aftermath of cyclone Aila.
  • Many of these sex workers identified themselves as Bhasha (environmental refugees).Women who are forced to enter into prostitution in order to look after their family and children face social ostracism and the threat of sexual exploitation at the hands of their clients.
  • The gender biases in the society is revealed by the perception of villagers when they think that “Households with more daughters are the most vulnerable’ to climate change induced disasters.

Why Caste should be included in Climate governance?

  • The principle of purity and pollution was central to the relations between the upper and lower castes in India since long and ritually impure occupations were historically associated with the Dalits.
  • Along with gender, caste is also an often ignored variable in climate governance policies, such as access to water.
  • The age-old social hierarchy in Hindu society has historically positioned Dalits as eternally polluted, feared to pollute sacred water sources.
  • The sites of fresh water are also forbidden to caste Hindu menstruating women until they are purified on the fifth or the seventh day.
  • Dalits, who are highly dependent on earnings from agricultural labour and livestock rearing dependent on forests and other common lands have fewer resources and options to combat the damages to the resource base because of climate change.
  • The internalization of discrimination and exclusion continue to deprive them of their social, economic and political rights and opportunities.
  • There is a need for proper state support to develop the adaptation mechanism of Dalits and support livelihood diversification strategies. Disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation need to inform the social protection policy so the poor Dalits and other marginalized sections can be shielded from shocks and risks owing to climate change and their livelihoods protected effectively.


India with its geo-climatic conditions is also faced with a high degree of socio-economic vulnerability making it one of the most disaster prone countries in the world. “India is considered highly vulnerable to climate change, not only because of high physical exposure to climate-related disasters (65% of India is drought prone, 12% flood prone, and 8% susceptible to cyclones), but also because of the dependency of its economy and majority of population on climate-sensitive sectors (e.g. agriculture, forests, tourism, animal husbandry and fisheries).  Under such circumstances, India cannot overlook the most affected population (women, children, elderly, marginalized sections of society) of climate change.

India is a key actor in global climate governance, a result of its emissions profile, economic performance, and leadership role in the developing world. India is a “dualist” system, which means that international agreements (such as the Paris Agreement and the UNFCCC) must be translated into domestic law to become enforceable within the country.

A new domestic climate policy must result from a collaborative and democratic exercise that actively seeks and incorporates inputs from policymakers, natural and social scientists, the academic community, civil society and communities from across the country. The role of villages, cities and states in co-creating India’s climate policy must be explicitly endorsed and promoted.

Source: https://www.epw.in/engage/article/climate-change-and-gendered-vulnerabilities

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