This article is written by Gunakeshari Lamsal.
Gender and climate change have a complex but interesting relationship. Have you ever wondered why even nature would treat gender disproportionately? Let’s have a glance at this.
Nepal, a small country located between India, China and Tibet, is blessed with diverse geography, including fertile plains, subalpine forested hills, and 8 of the world’s tallest outstanding Himalayas mountains: it’s overwhelmed with natural beauty and biodiversity. Nepal is an agricultural country where more than 66% people are involved in agriculture (FAO, 2017). Nepal is rich in culture, religion and tradition. The major cause for lagging development in the country is poverty and gender discrimination. Nepalese cultural, social and religious patterns repeatedly enforce the low status of women, often leading to a destructive lifestyle between genders.
Although, more than half of Nepalese are involved in agriculture, low profile of agricultural growth, lack of infrastructure development and poor utilization of human and natural resources fueled the poverty and inequalities in Nepal. Every day about 1500 people, mostly men, migrate toward urban and foreign lands, thereby leaving women to fulfill their reproductive as well as productive roles. Besides, there are different driving forces for the livelihood shifts in rural areas. Some of the forces observed are seasonal migration, permanent migration to urban areas or abroad, globalization, influx in communication technology and transportation (Eele, 2009). The present livelihood patterns are not only contributing to the high population densities in some urban areas but are also changing household dynamics by ‘feminising’ agricultural activities, which are increased both by the workload and the responsibilities of women and creating more livelihood dependency on remittances coming on rural areas from foreign and national employment(Sharma, 2016).
Status of women in Nepalese society
Gender is culturally and socially constructed differently between men and women, and varies from place to place and time to time. Nepalese society is a male dominated society, where the position or status of women is very low. The women, especially in rural areas, have less access to productive resources (inputs, resources, credit and land), economic opportunities, education /technology and mostly decision making power. They are confined to all household activities, their productive and reproductive role and all the responsibilities linked to taking care of children. Economically, women are fully dependent on their husband: in labor market, those who are working are not paid for their work and if paid they receive a little portion compared to their male counterparts. Access to credit is difficult since many of women are unaware of the government policies and subsidies. Reason behind the marginalization from economic and social opportunities might be illiteracy, poverty and conservative social taboos. Prevailing social exclusion and inclusion, gender, caste system and superstitious belief halt the development of women; one of the example is chaupidi pratha where women on their period in Nepalese village are banished to wooden huts with no walls as they risk their lives in a bizarre environment. We can still observe such situations in rural areas of Nepal.
Causes and impacts of climate change on women
Vulnerable people, especially women, indigenous groups or lower caste people, struggle with ongoing socio-economic crisis rather than climate change. This socio-economic crisis is due to the poor access of women to the resources with other socio-economic factors of class, caste/ethnicity, and age. Vulnerability and adaptive capacity varies upon the people’s economic status, educational levels, and access to information and technology. Some indigenous women carry out adaptation by using their indigenous knowledge. Gender structure shaped in Nepalese society allows poor access of women to education, decision making power, along with economic dearth has exacerbated the climatic risks, whereas, men are free from climatic risk due to their migration. Recently, a massive earthquake hits the Nepal. According to the data published by the Nepal police, more women and girls died in the earthquake than men and boys, with an alarming number of 55% of the casualties that were women and children.
Unlike the village women, urban women are less susceptible to the impacts of gender discrimination and climate change. Paradoxically women themselves are responsible for their own backwardness. The Government of Nepal has already made efforts to extirpate the gender discrimination following the quota system. Meanwhile 33.3% of women are involved in parliament, and a realm of Nepal is governed by women president for the very first time. Amalgamation of Illiteracy, superstitious belief, poverty, gender inequality and fragile ecosystem of the hilly and Himalayan areas together tend to increase the impacts of climate change on women. Although Nepal is modernizing and gender roles are changing, the traditional patriarchal society creates systematic barriers to gender equality. According to the World Economic Forum, the 2016 Global Gender Index reveals that Nepal ranks 110th out of 144 countries on gender parity. Nepal score for this index is 0.661, with 1 representing gender parity.
Climate change scenario in Nepal
Being sandwiched between two of the largest contributors of GHGs (China at first and India at fourth) Nepal cannot escape the rapidly increasing influence of climate and global changes. According to recent NDC submitted by Nepal to the UNFCCC, Nepal’s contribution to global emissions of GHGs is negligible (i.e. 0.027% of total global emissions) but the impact is outrageously higher. The rapidly retreating glaciers (average retreat of more than 30 m/year), the rapid rise in temperature (>0.06°C), the erratic rainfalls and the increase in frequency of extreme events such as floods and drought, are some of the effects Nepal has been facing during the last few years (karki, Mool, and Shrestha,2009). Most of the big rivers in Nepal are glacier-fed and represent the main sources of water and hydroelectricity, they will be seriously affected due to the ongoing changes in glacier reserves, snowfall and natural hazards.
The UN environment program noted that women are 6 times more connected to nature compared to the men in Nepal. Due to this disproportion in gender roles, norms and values, women are the ones who are most vulnerable and susceptible to climate catastrophes in Nepal. This is doesn’t seem fair, since women have contributed less to climate change, but bear the greatest brunt of it. Existing situation of Nepalese conditions such as poverty, or gender discrimination, are the major cause for higher impact of climate change on women.
After the overview of all limiting factors, gender disparities appear to be the major factor found to be responsible for increasing vulnerability of climate change on Nepalese women. Correction on the gender structure of Nepalese society would unlock the key of development and help to mitigate the climatic risks on women.
About the author: Gunakeshari Lamsal obtained a bachelor’s degree in Agricultural science at the Institute of Agriculture and Animal science, in Nepal. She joined CliMates in 2017, and is currently involved in the « Gender and Climate Project ». She speaks Nepali and English fluently.