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Photo credit: Pexel (Tope A. Asokere)

Women and climate resilience

By Jyoti Dahiya Iyer

The climate crisis is at a precipice. We are experiencing a rapidly changing climate pattern globally, leading to more frequent and longer disasters which are difficult to cope with, and their impacts causing distress especially to the vulnerable groups by posing a significant threat to their lives and livelihoods. Looking at the current trend, a predictive analysis would conclude that climate change is likely to escalate in the future, at a rapid rate. Therefore, it is imperative that efforts need to be made simultaneously to deal with this inevitable situation and exploit opportunities of climate change which are of advantage by adapting to life and by making ourselves more resilient to their impacts by altering our ways of life. Take actions to be better prepared for the predicted future impacts to reduce vulnerability and to quickly recover from them.
There is a strong correlation between vulnerability to the impact of climate change and gender. Women face challenges very differently from men and both respond differently to the impact of climate change. Women, in general, are more vulnerable and susceptible to these adversities than men, especially in rural areas for various reasons such as their roles and responsibilities, low socio-economic status, little or no access to education, social marginalization, and no role in decision making, etc influenced by the prevailing socio-cultural power structures of the societies in which they reside and have limited or no resources to withstand these impacts. However, in spite of conventional disparities, they play an important role towards climate resilience by harnessing whatever limited options available around them and making most of them without any support, which further contributes towards a community resilience but overlooked.
The present situation needs to be changed, Women can play a critical and significant role in climate resilience and help in building a climate-resilient future if given access to equal opportunities by engaging and integrating them in decision making for climate adaptation initiatives or disaster risk reduction planning initiatives by making such initiatives more gender responsive, demand-driven by representing interests and needs of women, and ensuring they have access to climate adaptation-related technology and tools and building their capacities by training them on how to use those tools.
In rural communities, it is often a woman’s responsibility to run a family, gather fuel for cooking, food and water for which she relies on indigenous natural resources and agriculture, which are most affected by climate change. In case of any natural disasters women suffer the most, following a climate crisis there is a consequent scarcity of food and water, and women often have to work for hours to fetch water and find food for the family. Many women in rural areas either work as agriculture laborers on daily wages for their livelihood or are smallholder farmers and in the event of flooding, they lose their only source of livelihood. That shows how climate change is affecting women directly.
The examples from around the world have shown that women have great leadership qualities and are better leaders in a crisis situation, are more collaborative by nature, have great organizational skills, and have the know-how to turn ideas and knowledge into action and if needed into a movement. Women tend to think for the collective whole and are good at making decisions for a larger group. An example of female leadership in climate movements can be seen in the Chipko Movement in India in the 1970s.
“Chipko movement, also called Chipko andolan, nonviolent social and ecological movement by rural villagers, particularly women, in India in the 1970s, aimed at protecting trees and forests slated for government-backed logging. The movement originated in the Himalayan region of Uttar Pradesh (later Uttarakhand) in 1973 and quickly spread throughout the Indian Himalayas. The Hindi word chipko means “to hug” or “to cling to” and reflects the demonstrators’ primary tactic of embracing the trees to impede the loggers”.
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Women are adept at the art of mobilizing the communities in an effective way and they are skillful at information sharing which are the key components to achieve climate resilience at the community level and for the success of any sustainable project. Training and capacity building for women will ensure a well-informed and well-prepared community to adapt to climate change.
It is high time to understand that women empowerment is one of the key components to tackle climate change adaptation and also to recognize the constructive role of women in building resilient communities and bring them forward, use their skills, share their indigenous knowledge and experience, and have active participation and contribution to achieve sustainable resilient communities. This will not only help improve collective intelligence in decision-making but will also help bridge the gender equality gap, while working together as a community at different levels to achieve the common goal of tackling climate change.