Gender Equality and Climate Change

This is goal 5 of the SDG of the UNFCCC. The unfulfilled promise of the world community for a world in which every woman enjoys full gender equality along with the removal of all legal, social and economic barriers to their empowerment is still existing. In fact the Covid-19 pandemic has hit very hard on women. Disadvantages in education translate into lack of access to skills and limited opportunities in all areas of growth and development.

The COVID-19 lockdown caused domestic violence to increase in many countries, showing the critical importance of social protection for women.. Regardless of where you live in, gender equality is a fundamental human right. Advancing gender equality is critical to all areas of a healthy society, from reducing poverty to promoting the health, education, protection and the well-being of future generation.

Detrimental effects of climate change can be felt in the short-term through natural hazards, such as landslides, floods and hurricanes; and in the long-term, through more gradual degradation of the environment. The adverse effects of these events are already felt in many areas of agriculture and food security; biodiversity and ecosystems; water resources; human health; human settlements and migration patterns; and energy, transport and industry. We in India have felt it this year more than last few years in the form of extreme weather conditions, landslides and other weather issues.

Since women are more vulnerable to the effects of climate change than men as they are more dependent for their livelihood on natural resources that are threatened by climate change. Women also face social, economic and political barriers that limit their coping capacity. On the top of it the women have responsibility to secure water, food and fuel for cooking coupled with unequal access to resources and to decision-making processes which limits them.

It is thus important to identify gender-sensitive strategies to respond to the environmental and humanitarian crises caused by climate change. Women are not only vulnerable to climate change but they are also effective actors or agents of change in relation to both mitigation and adaptation. Women often have a strong body of knowledge and expertise that can be used in climate change mitigation, disaster reduction and adaptation strategies.

The need for gender sensitive responses to the effects of climate change have serious ramifications in four dimensions of food security - in food availability, food accessibility, food utilization and food systems stability. Women farmers currently account for 45-80 per cent of all food production in developing countries depending on the region. During food shortages women’s health has been found to decline more than male health and excluded from decision-making on access to and the use of land and resources critical to their livelihoods. For these reasons, it is important that the rights of rural women are ensured in regards to food security, non-discriminatory access to resources, and equitable participation in decision-making processes.

According to the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, climate change is likely to become the dominant driver for the loss of biodiversity by the end of the century. Biodiversity plays an in important role in climate change adaptation and mitigation. For example, in contexts where deforestation is responsible for an average of 20% of human-induced carbon dioxide emissions, the conservation of natural habitats can reduce the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere

Majority of Rural population Kashmir are highly dependent on biomass, such as wood, agricultural crops, wastes and forest resources for their energy and livelihoods and almost all this is done by women. However, in the face of climate change, the ability of women to obtain these indispensable resources is reduced. The declining biodiversity does not solely impact the material welfare and livelihoods of people; it also cripples access to security, resiliency, social relations, health, and freedom of choices and actions. The majority of the biodiversity decline has a disproportionate impact primarily on such populace.

In Kashmir woods women are responsible for collecting traditional fuels,burning and making charcoal for Kangris which is a draining task. As a result, women have less time to fulfil their domestic responsibilities, earn money, and other public activities, learn to read or acquire other skills, or simply rest. Girls are sometimes kept home from school to help gather fuel, perpetuating the cycle of disempowerment. Moreover, when environmental degradation forces them to search farther places for resources, women become more vulnerable to injuries from carrying heavy loads long distances, facing increased risk of sexual harassment and assault.

However during the course of this hard work women gain knowledge on environment that indigenous people and communities possess which comprise of an understanding of wild ancestors of food, medicinal plants and domestic animals; symbiotic relations with ecosystems; an awareness of the structure of ecosystems and the functionality of specific species as well as the geographic ranges of said species.

Climate change has significant impacts on fresh water sources, affecting the availability of water used for domestic and productive tasks. The consequences of the increased frequency in floods and droughts are far reaching, particularly for vulnerable groupslike women who are responsible for water management at the household level.We have witnessed women in rural areas of Kashmir fetching water for their families from far off places and spend significant amounts of time daily hauling water from distant sources. The water from distant sources is rarely enough to meet the needs of the household and is often contaminated as is true in our case and the women pay the heaviest price for poor sanitation.

Given the changing climate, inadequate access to water and poor water quality does not only affect women, their responsibilities as primary givers, and the health of their families’, it also impacts agricultural production and the care of livestock; and increases the overall amount of labour that is expended to collect, store, protect and distribute water.

In terms of health, some potential climate change scenarios include: increased morbidity and mortality due to heat waves, floods, storms, fires and droughts. The risk of contracting serious illnesses is aggravated by environmental hazards caused by climate change. The greater incidence of infectious diseases such as cholera, malaria, skin issues due to the extension of risk seasons and wider geographic distribution of disease vectors. I personally see hundreds of young girls with skin ailments outside a prominent clinic in Hyderpora every day and think that this is mostly our doing.

Climate change adds a new complexity to the areas of human mobility and settlement by exacerbating environmental degradation. The gradual process of environmental deterioration is likely to increase the flows of both internal and cross-border human migration over the next decades resulting in a greater number of people being displaced.

The migratory consequences of environmental factors result in higher death rates for women in least developed countries, as a direct link to their socioeconomic status, to behavioural restrictions and poor access to information. While migration is a survival response to climate change, frequent human resettlement further exacerbates the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem besides vast changes in land-use, the physical modification of rivers or water withdrawal from rivers.

Implications of climate change for women’s human rights Studies show that global warming and extreme weather conditions may have calamitous human rights consequences for millions of people. Global warming is one of the leading causes and greatest contributors to world hunger, malnutrition, exposure to disease, and declining access to water. Moreover it poses limitations to adequate housing, spurring the loss of livelihoods as a result of permanent displacement. Climate change affects the economic and social rights of countless individuals; this includes their rights to food, health and shelter.

The solution lies in incorporating gender perspectives and involving women as agents of change in at least four areas while dealing with climate change: mitigation, adaptation, technology transfer and financing. The first two are linked to manifestations of climate change; and the latter two are linked to the means for achieving development goals.

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