Factors that exacerbate women’s vulnerability to climate change

Women make up half of the world, yet women’s representation in national and global climate negotiating bodies is less than 30 per cent. There is an urgent requirement to up women’s participation right from local decision-making bodies to high stakes committees as women disproportionately suffer on account of societal structures in the wake of climate change-induced exigencies. People do not experience the impact of weather and climate events equally. Societal structures play a huge role in aiding/disabling an individual’s experience of the same.


In this article, an argument is developed to explicate the manner in which women experience a higher degree of poverty on account of an absence of physical and social capital making them more susceptible to the havoc wreaked in the aftermath induced by climate change-related exigencies.


Feminization of Agriculture on account of Migration of Labor

On account of the process of economic liberalization unfurling in the early 90s, cities had come to assume the entry point of global capital. As a result of this, development projects boomed within the perimeters of the cities and metropolises in question. With cities becoming hubs of both, economic expansion and accumulation of capital; in addition to the growing instability in agricultural production, the rural community began to witness the exodus of individuals from the rural hinterlands of the country to the cities in search of better employment prospects.

According to reports published by the World Bank, FAO and IFAD in 2009, it is found that on account of men migrating to seek employment in diverse sectors, women have come to constitute up to 80 per cent of rural small – holder farmers, worldwide.

Yet with small and marginal land holding farmers constituting an overwhelming 82.6% of farmers in India, with an over – representation of women within this sector of agriculturists, it remains to be highlighted that an abysmal 13% of women within the Indian state are land owners. Despite 60 – 80% of the total food that we consume are produced by rural women, both the State and society refuses to formally acknowledge women as farmers on account of gender based legal and socio – cultural constraints


Limitations in the Ownership and Access to Land

The Ministry of Finance, Government of India issued a press release which acknowledges the feminization of agriculture on the basis of the findings of the Economic Survey of 2017 – 18. 5 Although the government pitches for an inclusive transformative agricultural policy, which aims at evolving gender specific interventions for the improvement in the productivity of small holding farmers, through the provision of agricultural extension services and access to financial credit; the notice remains quiet on the condition of improving women farmers‟ ownership of land.

Although the Hindu Succession Act and certain legislations within the purview of religious personal laws have limited provisions which enable women to assume the role of equal stakeholders in inheriting family property, discriminatory societal norms do not recognize women as land owners as the lawful possession of land continues to be the prerogative of men. It remains to be said that as governments do not recognize women as land owners, the benefits of the policies offered by the central and various state governments do not trickle down to a majority of the women farmers who constitute the over – represented small holding farmers.


Time Poverty

Time poverty or a significant impoverishment in the ability of women to engage in employment opportunities which result in productive outcomes occurs on the basis of broadly two conditions. Firstly, on account of an inequitable distribution of labor within the care economy and secondly because of insufficient development of infrastructural services with respect to public transport, water and sanitation services, energy services and institutional care facilities for children, the sick and the elderly.

This can be illustrated by the fact that upon the arrival of climate change and its accompanying exigencies, women are required to expend an increased degree of their energies in securing food, fuel and water as they‟re required to travel greater lengths in obtaining the aforementioned requirements.

Thereby, on account of the reduction in the availability of the time for women to engage in care practices, girls may have to drop out of school in order to assist their mothers with the aforementioned tasks, thereby perpetuating the vicious cycle of poverty and inequity. On account of limited degrees of literacy and education, women farmers experience a difficult time in accessing critical information and thereby are unable to enhance their awareness with respect to imbibing the adequate technologies in adapting and mitigating to climate related risks to agriculture and livestock.

Political Participation and Decision Making

Women’s participation within the community has been limited to traditional local women’s organizations which typically focus their attention on women’s “practical gender needs”. These needs entail the improvement in access to government programs, rural infrastructure and connections to the outside or the public realm. The medium of the traditional local women’s organizations referred to as Mahila Mandals provide forums to deliberate upon the practical problems of the village women which include their access to water, education, health facilities and sometimes to curb violence on account of alcoholism.

However, it remains to be explored if the Mahila Mandals in question are organizations which merely consolidate gender inequality or are vehicles of resistance that facilitate the entry of women into the public domain, in an effective manner. Mahila Mandals have primarily been involved in meeting the immediate concerns of the women in a specific society, especially with respect to maintaining the smooth functioning of welfare-oriented development programs.

Therefore, early feminist discourse in India has taken issue with the nature of the mandate of the traditional women’s organizations in question as being “subversive to strategic gender interests since they're seen to consolidate patriarchal norms and established gender ideology.”


References:

1. Sassen, Saskia (2009), “Cities in today's global age” SAIS Review, 29(1), 3-34.

2. Women More Vulnerable Than Men to Climate Change. (Retrieved from https://www.prb.org/women- vulnerable-climate-change/

3. Move over 'Sons of the soil': Why you need to know the female farmers that are revolutionizing agriculture in India. Retrieved from https://www.oxfamindia.org/women-empowerment-india-farmers.

4. Although, small and marginal land – holding farmers represent 82.6% of the total farmers in the country, these farmers own just 47.3% of the total crop area while semi – medium and medium land holding farmers own about 43.6% of the total crop area.

5. The Press Information Bureau issued a press release on 29th January 2018 in an effort to mainstream the participation of women farmers in the agriculture sector.

6. Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 35, No. 50 (Dec. 9-15, 2000), pp. 4391-439

7. Jadhav, R. (2019, April 11). Why many women in Maharashtra's Beed district have no wombs. Retrieved from https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/economy/agri-business/why-half-the-women-in-maharashtras-beed-district-have-no-wombs/article26773974.ece

8. Khan A.M. and Tekhre Y.L. (1995): Income Generating Activities and Family Planning Behavior in the Rural Area of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Haryana, Research Report, NIHFW, New Delhi


(This blog post was submitted by our Guest Author and alumnus, Meher Suri. Meher is a policy professional, wielding a sharp curiosity to explore myriad avenues at the interface of the government, societies, and people power. When she is not working, she is nerding out on feminist theory, finding her way into a forest, and jumping into streams and oceans. )