In most of the rural parts of South Asian countries, women spend hours every day hauling water for their family members as well as for their livestock and crops. This is an example of a problem present across the region that describes the impact of climate change on women. With changing climate, water resources have dried up, which consequently forces women to travel miles away to fetch water—time they could otherwise utilise for productive work like gaining education or earning an income.
The effects of climate change can be seen from the change in agricultural pattern and soil quality. This poses a great threat of food security and to the health of living beings. It is true that the whole world and everybody in it, regardless of their gender, are affected by these changes, but the effects are not equal. Numerous studies have revealed that women suffer the impacts of disasters and climate change disproportionately, because of socio-cultural norms and the inequitable distribution of roles, resources and power, especially in developing countries. But sadly, women are rarely involved in decision-making processes related to climate change.
Between October 17-19, representatives from more than 60 countries convened in the 5th Asia Pacific Climate Change Adaptation Network (APAN) forum held in Colombo, Sri Lanka to contemplate and discuss the adaptation plans and strategies among the countries of the Asia Pacific region. I too enthusiastically joined the forum and got the opportunity to participate in the discussions on recent challenges and gaps in policy and practices on climate change adaptation in the region.
Throughout the event, discussions on various aspects of adaptation processes were held. The discourses highlighted the crucial role women play for the effective implementation of adaptation planning, and sought out the need for participatory approaches in building adaptive capacity of women as leaders and key pillars of communities. One of the panellists, also a woman community leader, remarked, “whatever the extent of impact is, women are the first target of the climate change and it is unfair that they are not engaged while deciding on adaptation planning process.” I could completely relate to her and I wholeheartedly agreed with her.
In Nepal, women constitute more than half of the total population, with the men in general migrating to foreign countries for labour opportunities. Thus, most women in the country are burdened with additional responsibilities. But women’s unequal participation in decision-making processes and limited knowledge on climate change adaptation prevent them from contributing to climate-related planning, policymaking and implementation. As women are more affected and vulnerable than men to climate change, their voices and concerns should be heard, but for that they need to be informed and educated on the matter.
The Nepal government’s adaptation planning process needs to incorporate the voice of women and seek to improve their capacity and access to critical information on climate change and its management.
More than coping
Adaptation is adjustments in ecological, social, and economic systems in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli and their effects or impacts. It is much more than coping. We must not overlook the potential of women as ‘the change agent’ and provide an environment for women to improve their adapting capacity at the local level, which can ensure the effective implementation of adaptation and mitigation planning of the government.
Moreover, to achieve the target of Sustainable Development Goal 13—“take urgent action to combat climate change and its impact”—we need to focus on the integration of climate change measures into national policies, educate people, raise awareness at the grassroots level and build institutional capacity on climate change mitigation, adaptation, impact reduction and early warnings.
The government must educate women to allow them to manage climate-related risks to agriculture and livestock and enhance their capacity to respond effectively to climate variability. Until and unless gender responsive adaptation plans are developed and concerned women’s meaningful participation is ensured, it is quite impossible to implement the policies of the government.