Women need governmental support to deal with climate change in the Himalayas

  • Women are often called as vulnerable victims of climate change as well as integral to climate change adaptation, but even then government policies overlook the oppression they face.
  • To address it, the latest report by ICIMOD has suggested a series of measures such as the government allocating resources, financial and human, for gender-responsive interventions, and creation of mechanisms to ensure the promotion of women’s rights.
  • The report also highlighted social problems faced by migrants in the Himalayan countries and batted for a series of measures to ensure their welfare.

Women in the Himalayan countries are often dubbed as vulnerable victims of climate change as well as formidable champions of climate change adaptation but despite that “policies and responses” in the Himalayan countries “overlook the multiple forms of oppression and exclusion that they face.”

A recent report, ‘Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH) Assessment: Mountains, Climate Change, Sustainability, and People’, released by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) on February 4, highlighted that “existing laws and policies do not support the multiple ways in which women negotiate their roles in households, communities, and the market.”

It said that policies that support adaptation to climate change would not succeed “unless they consider gender and how it interacts with other factors such as class, caste, ethnicity, and geography, which will require disaggregated data.”

The report recommended that all levels of government must allocate resources — financial and human — for “gender-responsive interventions at scale and adopt clear accountability mechanisms, such as gender budgeting, to demonstrate their commitment to gender equality.”

It further noted that the policies to improve women’s participation in decision making and climate governance must go beyond numbers and quotas to create mechanisms that ensure empowerment and promote women’s rights and agency.

Climate change and extreme weather events have different impact on women

Echoing the views expressed in the report, Himachal Pradesh-based researcher-activist, Manshi Asher, said women shoulder much more responsibility than men in mountains while having little or no say in the decision making processes.

“In Himachal Pradesh, the single women headed households – of widows, divorced, abandoned, with a missing husband and unmarried women – are increasing but they are not getting the desired support from policymakers. There is a need to bring women in the policy-making process, but there is a huge need for a socio-cultural shift in society,” Asher told Mongabay-India.

“Recognising women’s ownership over land and natural resources like forests is critical if they need to be part of any change process,” she explained.

The impact of climate change is different among women and men in the Himalayan mountains. Photo by S. Gopikrishna Warrier/Mongabay.

The report by ICIMOD, an intergovernmental organisation in Kathmandu (Nepal), was prepared by about 350 researchers from across the world over a period of three years.

Read more: Melting Himalayas put billions at risk

It observed that climate change and extreme weather have differential impacts on women and men in the Himalayan region. “The case studies confirm that women’s experiences in the Hindu Kush Himalayas are multiple, differentiated, and sometimes contradictory and, in some cases, effect new chains of vulnerability,” the report said.

It also warned against further feminising of responsibilities.

“While the creation of space for women to participate in natural resources management and governance is critical in terms of exercising voice and agency, policies must not further feminize responsibilities in ways that will add to, rather than reduce, environmental burdens for women,” the report said.

“Women’s engagement and participation in climate change policy-making and on-the-ground interventions should follow a logic that is empowering and promotes women’s rights—not one that is dictated solely by efficiency.

Asher explained that the “condition of women in India’s hill states like Uttarakhand and Himachal is worsening. The traditional skill sets that women had like handicrafts are also going out of their hands due to various reasons. What is needed is a holistic solution of addressing gender disparities in society and economy, not just while discussing climate change issues,” Asher added.

Labour migration addresses poverty reduction, but there are risks

The report highlights that labour migration contributes significantly to poverty reduction in the Himalayan region, although this depends on who is able to move, and under what conditions. It highlighted that emerging research shows that a large number of climate change affected households in this region have been using labour migration as one of the many adaptation tools.

“Remittances sent by the migrants are being used in disaster risk reduction. In the past, mainly men migrated for work, and women were left behind, or, accompanied the men as a spouse. Since the beginning of the new millennium, an ever-increasing number of women are participating in labour migration in some of the HKH countries,” it added.

However, the report warned that migration could increase “inequality, especially if there are restrictions on who can migrate, and to where, as this can lead to ‘capture’ of profitable migration routes by wealthier groups, and/or limitation of migration benefits for the poor.”

As per the report, migration in the Himalayan region continues to be a significant livelihood strategy, and there is a growing understanding that it can also open up new opportunities for development.

It batted for policymakers to approach migration “not as a challenge, but instead seek ways to mainstream it into climate change adaptation, disaster risk reduction, and policy processes and programmes.”

Internal migrants in the Himalayan countries needs new social protection measures. Photo by Shyamal L./Wikimedia Commons.

The report said internal migrants to urban areas of the Himalayan countries, who are relatively less educated, less skilled, and employed in the informal sector, experience various kinds of exclusion.

“They do not enjoy social security such as access to food through the public distribution system, education and health care. Most importantly, they lack entitlement to housing at their migration destination, because they lack proof of identity and residence. In many cases, they and their families end up living in informal settlements, with limited access to public amenities. These forms of exclusion limit the benefits and create new risks for internal migrants and their families,” it said.

Vulnerable internal migrants in the Himalayan countries, who work in marginalized areas such as domestic work and construction, and as hawkers and security guards, should be supported with new social protection measures, the report added.

Banner image: Women shoulder much more responsibility in the Himalayan region but are not involved in decision making. Photo by Ashutosh Rawat/Wikimedia Commons.

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