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Gender and Climate Change in the Himalayas
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The e-discussion on Gender and Climate Change in the Himalayas, facilitated by the Asia Pacific Mountain Network, was initiated as the world's attention turns to changes in climate that may have consequences on natural resources and every aspect of health, food production, economic development and our general well-being. Held from October 5-26th 2009, the e-discussion aimed to provide input to the discussions taking place in the run up to and at the 15th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Copenhagen in December 2009. It attracted 130 contributions from a total of 407 registered participants. The contributions came from a diverse spectrum of participants including academics, development practitioners, researchers and students, who shared their experiences, observations, perceptions and opinions on gender, development, climate change, natural disasters and planning to mitigate the impacts of climate change on the most vulnerable people.
Climate change in the Himalayas, the world's "third pole", is affecting the lives of millions of people living upstream and downstream. Mountain people's livelihoods are affected by erratic rainfall, increased occurrence of droughts and changing temperatures. As women and men generally play different roles in ensuring their livelihoods, their lives may be affected differently and they may play different roles in adapting to the changes.
The discussion aimed to learn how women and men may be affected differently by climate change. What do they do to respond to those stresses? How can we tap on mountain women and men's knowledge and capacities to support adaptation strategies to climate change? In brief, most participants agreed that both women and men are affected by climate change impacts but are vulnerable in different ways. Both women and men also play an essential role in adapting to their changing environment; however, women's role and capacities are often overlooked. Mechanisms to support adaptation strategies must be gender sensitive in order to address the potentially differential needs of women and men and tap their respective knowledge and skills to make those strategies efficient and sustainable.
Women and men are vulnerable in different ways to disasters and the impacts of climate change
The negative effects of climate change have definitely affected both women and men, especially those living in poverty in developing countries. The participants generally agreed, however, that women are affected more adversely by disasters and the impacts of climate change due to their essential roles in agricultural and household matters. When the men of households leave for wage labour and employment, the women must assume more responsibilities in addition to their traditional socio-economic and cultural roles.
The participants described how, as the climate changes, women are forced to go further for drinking water as water resources dry up and further to collect wood. Millions of people in areas suffering food scarcity may have to give up traditional crops, which could lead to social upheaval, mass migration and conflict over water resources. These events could further increase the vulnerability of women to poverty and various forms of violence.
There is a need for more research backed by clear evidence of the greater effect of climate change on women. Although a range of methodological tool kits exist to describe how to assess vulnerability and the adaptive capacity of people to climate change, none specifically focuses on the gender dimension of climate change.
The participants generally agreed on the importance of research on the impacts on women of the Koshi flood in eastern Nepal, deforestation in Humla district and flooding in Kailali district of western Nepal and the monsoon and cyclones in Pakistan and Bangladesh. This research could reveal the root causes of the impacts and thus indicate ways to mitigate the impacts of future flash floods, drought, melting ice, rising sea level, heat waves and colder winters. The participants suggested that the concept of gender should be extended to look at the intersectionality with caste, ethnicity, class, age and education.
Women's and men's assets – knowledge, skills and capacities – can contribute to adaptation strategies
In response to the questions posed by the moderator, the participants described how the assets for adaptation to climate change are based on the understanding that the individual or collective has about their immediate environment and the potential impact the specific change would have.
For example, local or traditional knowledge is often extremely detailed and strong among remote, insular, or isolated communities; it is also crucial and critical for the sustenance and livelihood security of such remote communities. Mountain women have the knowledge to produce and preserve food for cold weather and to sustain life under such harsh conditions, but they are now searching for alternatives to increase their food security. They have the knowledge of agricultural crops, wild edibles, useful forest resources, seed selection and storage, weeds and weed management.
Social and economic factors may hinder women's and men's capacity to adapt to climate change impacts in the Himalayas
Climate changes are affecting human lives physically, psychologically, socio-economically and culturally due to the depletion of local sources of livelihood. Other factors include rapid population growth, poverty, improper use of natural resources and unplanned and unsustainable development practices that have contributed to escalating the magnitude of risks. This stress on livelihoods erodes family stability and results in domestic violence and criminal offences, which are mostly committed against women or other vulnerable people.
The cultural norms and values of the Hindu Kush Himalayan regions have a strong influence on the capacities of women and men to adapt to climate change. As men are more able to move for employment and livelihoods, there has been a "feminization of agriculture" that has resulted in a "feminization of poverty" over the years.
As transformations take place, women's knowledge and skills are sometimes overlooked. It is essential, however, to safeguard, conserve and build upon this rich knowledge base if effective adaptation strategies are to be formulated.
Gender issues in water resources are also contentious and the impacts of climate change will no doubt exacerbate these issues. The adaptation capacity in water resources will only be achieved through a fully participatory approach at all levels, which includes women. A strong gender constituency is needed to ensure that the voices of the most vulnerable will be heard when issues such as REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) and the Clean Development Mechanism are being discussed.
Support to mountain people's adaptation strategies
The e-discussion concluded with a discussion of approaches for supporting mountain people's strategies to adapt to climate change from a gender perspective.
The questions posed to the participants included:
A general theme at the root of many comments was that, thus far, most approaches have been reactive whereas there is a need for integrated policies, strategies, practices and adaptations to be proactive.
Specific measures to support mountain people's capacity to adapt to impacts
The participants suggested a number of specific measures to support the adaptive capacity of women and men living in the mountains. These included:
The participants also agreed that national climate change policies and strategies in the Himalayan countries should address the different adaptation needs of women and men living in the mountains by recognising the right of each individual to live with dignity and support victims of disaster. They suggested that governments should also realise the farmer's right to equitably participate and share benefits of indigenous traditional agriculture practices.
Actions of governmental institutions to support climate change adaptation efficiently
The e-conference discussion also brought out several general recommendations for actions to make climate change adaptations more efficient and effective. There was a consensus among the participants that gender inequality is a major obstacle to adaptation to change and this issue must be addressed.
In conclusion, the participants discussed how the knowledge and skills of women and men must be tapped in order to address their respective needs and to make mechanisms to support adaptation strategies efficient and sustainable.
This report is based, with permission, on the pamphlet Gender and Climate Change in the Himalayas published by the Asia Pacific Mountain Network. The e-discussion was moderated by Brigitte Leduc and Tek Jung Mahat. The summaries were prepared by Frances Klatzel. The names of the discussants, contributions and summaries are available on-line, along with a background paper.
Brigitte Leduc and Tek Jung Mahat, Asia Pacific Mountain Network, International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, GPO Box 3226, Kathmandu, Khumaltar, Lalitpur, Nepal. Fax: +977-1-5003222. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com. Web: apmn.icimod.org.
On the Web
The Tiempo Climate Cyberlibrary lists websites on gender and climate change.
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Tiempo Climate Newswatch