Gender Perspectives on Climate Change & Human Security in India: An Analysis of National Missions on Climate Change

Women play a crucial role in many activities essential for coping with climate change. Indian women appear to be more vulnerable than men to differential impacts of climate change because they share most of the household managing responsibilities but have limited access to participation in decision making and governance. Most of the policies for climate change adaptation and mitigation do not specifically address the vulnerability of women. The National Action Plan for Climate Change (NAPCC), formulated to shape future discourse of climate change adaptation and development, recognizes the differential impacts of climate change on society, but incorporates merely a few gender specific measures. The paper suggests gender specific measures for each mission of the NAPCC to make the adaptation and development process more inclusive and sustainable in India.
Climate change has the potential to turn into a ‘crisis for humankind’ as its potential multiple impacts can exacerbate the scarcity of natural resources, crop failure, hunger, malnutrition and disease, and can undermine economic growth and development in the long run.1 The core challenge of climate change is the structural impact on the fragile and vulnerable sections of the society which have limited or the least capacity at both social and individual levels to cope with climate catastrophes. Climate change would have severe implications for the progress of mankind and well-being of individuals, which are the main planks of human security. Contrary to the conventional notion of security, human security encompasses an inclusive agenda of human development including life, livelihood, access to food and water, health, and environmental sustainability. Thus, fundamental elements of human security are explicitly and implicitly interlinked with vulnerabilities induced by climate change. Women comprise a considerable percentage of the world’s poorest and disadvantaged people, and therefore, are likely to be disproportionately affected by the adverse impacts of climate change.2 They are marginalized and deprived of the basic right to a decent life in our society due to various social, cultural, political and economic constraints. They share the maximum of burdens in managing the households, but have relatively less or limited access to health care, employment, economic opportunities, political participation and role in decision making pro cesses. Compared to their responsibilities, better access to resources and opportunities would make them less vulnerable to climate-change-induced development challenges and natural calamities. India is one of the countries that is most vulnerable and risk prone to potential impacts of climate change. Indian women score lowest on some development indicators. Such factors could particularly have serious implications for the well-being of women.
From the gender point of view, men and women have different roles and responsibilities, which result in differences in vulnerability and ability to cope with change.3 Furthermore, vulnerabilities among women are also due to their limited adaptive capacity that stems from predominating issues like illiteracy, inequality in social rights, inadequate access to information and resources, and limited health care facilities.4 India is at the 112th position in the Global Gender Gap Index that examines the gap between men and women in four fundamental categories: economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival and political empowerment.5 India figures very low on both the HDI and GDI as it ranks 134 and 114 respectively. Wages for women in India are much lower compared to those of men.6 Forty-nine percent of Indian women live in poverty and only 36 percent participate in the labor force.* In terms of health and survival, according to NFHS-3, more than one-third of Indian women were suffering from Chronic Energy Deficiency during 2005-06, over half the women in the 15-49 age group suffered from Iron Deficiency Anemia. 59 percent of pregnant women are anemic.7, 8 As far as political empowerment is concerned, though women’s participation in panchayats (rural local government) has increased due to the 33 percent reservation scheme in India (now Government of India has extended up to 50 percent), their representation in parliament and state assemblies of many states has not gone beyond eight and ten percent respectively.9 Women’s participation in decision making process is also limited.
Apart from these unfavourable indicators, various social and household responsibilities contribute to women’s vulnerabilities. Women are largely responsible for household management and water and fuel collection in their communities, which are difficult, time-consuming tasks due to environmental changes. Generally women fulfill these tasks and engage in work outside their homes. Climate change can cause a rise in sea level, affecting livelihoods from fishing in which women are equally involved. Fresh water supply may also be affected due to intrusion of saline water into freshwater systems. Land inundation damages infrastructure, roads and houses. Inundation also results in large-scale migration that increases hardship for women. Women are more likely to suffer heat stress due to biological reasons.‡ Climate change will affect people’s health. Generally women look after their children and elderly family members when they are sick. If such demands on them increase, women will be less able to pursue income-generating activities.§
Climate-change-induced natural disasters affect women and men differently. The cyclone and flood of 1991 in Bangladesh killed two-three times as many women as men, and in districts worst hit by tsunami, more women were killed than men.10 Many other reports have focused on how women have been disadvantaged across caste, class, and occupations in the tsunami relief and recovery operations by conventional gender norms or gender-neutral/blind state policies. Moreover, women have less access to resources that are essential for disaster preparedness and mitigation, and rehabilitation. An increase in extreme events puts extra burden of devastation and destruction on women, who have to keep the family together after floods and storms, and put food on the plate.11
Gendered divisions of labor often result in overrepresentation of women in agricultural and informal sectors, which are more vulnerable to climate change. Many poor women are also actively engaged in agricultural activities, including paddy cultivation and fishing, which will be affected by changing weather patterns in India. Loss of livelihood will increase their vulnerability and marginalization.12 Indian women, in general, are also responsible for tasks such as food collection and energy supply for the household as well as many care-giving tasks such as caring for the children, sick, elderly, the home and assets.13 For instance, in hill and mountain regions, and in arid and semi-arid areas where forests have disappeared and agriculture remains poor, women spend between six and ten hours daily collecting the resources they need to meet their basic survival needs.14

Jyoti Parikh, Executive Director of IRADe; Fellow, World Academy of Art & Science
Dinoj Kumar Upadhyay, Research Analyst, IRADe
Tanu Singh, Research Analyst, IRADe
* See UNDP, UNDP in India, Empowered Lives, Resilient Nations, 2010, p-13.
† See Jyoti Parikh, Towards A Gender-Sensitive Agenda for Energy, Environment and Climate Change, Expert Group Meeting on “The impact of the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action on the Achievement of the Millennium Development Goals”, United Nations Office at Geneva, November 2009, p-3
‡ See Jyoti Parikh, Gender and Climate Change Framework for Analysis, Policy & Action, Integrated Research and Action for Development, 2007, p-21.
§ See Yianna Lambrou and Grazia Piana, Gender: The Missing Component of the Response to Climate Change, Food and Agriculture Organisations of United Nations, Gender and Population Division, Sustainable Development Department, April 2006, p-36.
1. German Advisory Council on Global Change (WBGU), World in Transition: A Social Contract for Sustainability (Berlin: WBGU, 2011), 33.
2. Alyson Broody, Justina Demetriades and Emily Esplen, Gender and Climate Change: Mapping the Linkages: A Scoping Study on Knowledge and Gaps (Sussex: Institute of Development Studies, 2008).
3. “Policy Brief: People-Centred Climate Change Adaptation: Integrating gender issues,” Food and Agriculture Organization, 2010
4. Jyoti Parikh, “Is Climate Change a Gender Issue?” UNDP 2010
5. World Economic Forum, The Corporate Gender Gap Report 2010 (Geneva: World Economic Forum, 2010), 4
6. Govind Kelkar, “Development Effectiveness through Gender Mainstreaming,” Economic and Political Weekly 40, no. 44 (2005): 4690-4699.
7. Naresh Saxena, “Hunger, Under-Nutrition and Food Security in India,” Working Paper 44, CPRC-IIPA 2010
8. T. Nandakumar et al., Food and Nutrition Security Status in India: Opportunities for Investment Partnerships (Manila: Asian Development Bank, 2010)
9. Planning Commission, Government of India, “Gender empowerment,” in State Development Report: Himachal Pradesh 2011
10. Kenneth Hewitt, “The Social Nature of Exposure, Vulnerability and Responses to Disaster” MRI International Workshop, Vienna, 2009.
11. Jyoti Parikh and Fatma Denton, “Gender and Climate Change,” Tiempo no. 47 (2003).
12. United Nations Development Programme, Fighting Climate Change: Human Solidarity in a Divided World (New York: UNDP, 2007/08).
13. Elaine Enarson, Gender and Natural Disasters (Geneva: International Labour Organization, 2000).
14. Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), State of India’s Environment: The Citizen’s Fifth Report (New Delhi: CSE, 1999).

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