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Why Climate Change Impacts Indian Women More Than Men

18/12/2015 8:22 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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India, Rajasthan, three tribeswomen collecting water in brass jars

A report issued by the World Bank suggests that India's economic progress could be severely hampered, with an additional 45 million pushed into poverty, due to the effects of climate change. While Prime Minister Modi makes his position clear vis-à-vis developed nations, the government does not appear to be taking enough cognisance of the devastating effects of climate change at home.

Climate change is real and unless serious action is taken there is no way back. There is no plan B and unless our space exploration explodes a million fold and we get extremely lucky, we do not have another planet to call home. So climate change is here to stay and will affect everyone -- most of all the marginalised. Within that subset, the vulnerable -- women and children -- are most likely to see its full-blown effects. Throughout the world, natural disasters and severe weather events tend to impact women more than men. In developing countries, this problem is compounded when several other factors such as malnutrition, inequitable distribution of power and gender roles that are unfavourable to women are added to the mix.

As livelihood is threatened and food shortages are faced, women often prioritise the basic needs of their men and children...

In developing countries, especially in rural areas, women rarely work and tend to be economically dependent on men. As livelihood is threatened and food shortages are faced, women often prioritise the basic needs of their men and children and often go hungry, making them weak and exposing them to malnutrition and other health problems.

Malnutrition becomes an even greater threat when a woman is pregnant or of child-bearing age. Research has shown that health risks increase exponentially when women go longer between meals, making the child more vulnerable to premature birth and other problems and impacting the mother's ability to lactate.

Reduction in family income could also mean that girls' education is given less emphasis -- she is pulled out of school and expected to take care of family chores. Girls who complete primary and secondary education are likely to earn more income, are less likely to be married young and have fewer unwanted pregnancies. When women are deprived of an education, the cycle of dependence on men, both economically and culturally, continues.

Climate change has a significant impact on the availability of fresh water resources. Often in rural areas, it is the job of women or girls to fetch water. In this case as well the needs of men are given precedence and this affects the sanitation requirements of girls and women. Across India, roughly 600 million people (more than 53% of the population) do not have access to toilets. This is not only raises the risk of disease epidemics but also has an impact on the physical safety of women.

Besides water, women in rural areas also depend more directly on local natural resources because they are primarily tasked with securing means of heating and cooking. Climate change can alter how easily those resources are accessed. Also women, historically, have limited access to family's decision-making and economic assets making it harder for them to cope with the effects of climate change. Cultural norms can add to this issue -- women may not be able to travel without a male companion or their clothing might impede their ability to quickly navigate to safety. Besides, not being empowered with information can also hinder their ability to access resources in times of natural disasters or other climate change effects.

Regardless of gender or place of residence, ultimately climate change will affect us all. However, for women and girls, especially in rural India, it will hit harder and faster than for the rest of us.

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