Incorporating gender into the DECCMA Indian team’s research

The DECCMA India team organised a Gender Workshop on the 1st of June 2015, primarily to discuss DECCMA’s working paper on gender DECCMA’s approach to the incorporation of gender (Vincent, K. and Cull, T. 2015).

The workshop began with an introduction by Prof. Sugata Hazra where he highlighted the project objectives and how gender lies at its core. Following this, Ms. Anchita Ghatak, gender focal point for the DECCMA Indian team, discussed DECCMA’s approach to gender. She used power point presentations prepared by Kulima to initiate the discussion.

The presentation pointed out that while “sex” is the biological identifier, “gender” is a social construct. Gendering begins right from the birth of a child and it is almost as if society hands out a rulebook containing the dos and don’ts based on the sex of the child. This concept was further discussed by the team by sharing things which take place around us all the time and are intrinsic to our culture and way of life. We, therefore, take them as ‘natural’ and accept them unquestioningly. For instance, the gendering of toys for children has always been there but it seems that we take it for granted that that is how it is supposed to be.

We also talked about the fact that many thinkers and activists no longer make a distinction between nature and nurture. They are of the opinion that it is difficult to distinguish between what is biology and where socialisation begins. We also discussed the fact that gender identity is not necessarily fixed or static. While it is a fact that most people in the world subscribe to a gender identity of either male or female, they are many who choose other identities for themselves. Also, someone assigned ‘male’ (or female) at birth may not continue to ascribe to being male (or female) later in life. We need to develop an understanding of gender that goes beyond binaries and also appreciate new knowledge that says that we can see a spectrum of gender identities and an individual may be at different parts of the spectrum during their life. Also, it is important to understand that all people are also not necessarily heterosexual. Of course, a non binary understanding of gender necessarily explodes the idea of a solely heterosexual world.

Gender as a marker of identity works with other identifiers such as age, ethnicity, caste, religion, wealth, class and disability. Depending on where we are in our patriarchal society as a combination of these markers, we are privileged or oppressed. Compare a Brahmin, able bodied man in India with a Dalit girl with a disability. Different struggles to create an equal world do not aim at imposing sameness but strive for equality of opportunity for all – specific measures have to be put in place for oppressed / disadvantaged groups. Consequently, creation of a gender equal world often requires establishing equitable conditions. For example, we cannot expect girls to attend school if there are no toilets for them.

Patriarchy privileges males and a certain idea of maleness. The world gets divided into a ‘male’ world and a ‘female’ world – these are manifested differently in different cultures. The gender division of labour too, is almost always seen as ‘natural’, and women and girls are burdened with a disproportionate amount of domestic tasks.
The “public” and “private” domains have been starkly divided where women are trained to comply with the duties of the private world tending to household needs and carrying out reproductive activities. This demarcation has been so strong that it has been considered inappropriate for women to venture into tasks pertaining to the public domain. This has led to underdevelopment or lack of certain “simple” everyday skills in women. It is necessary for us to sharpen our gender lens to look beyond the norm.

When we look at Gender vis-à-vis Migration and Adaptation, we often find that women stay back to look after the elderly and children and perform reproductive activities. Migration also reinforces gender inequality where the woman who stays back may face exploitation and the ones who migrate may be subject to exploitation and violence. Remittances can also reinforce gender vulnerabilities and hierarchies where remittances sent by family members are handled by the remaining males of the family. Also, women sending remittances can challenge gender hierarchy but few acknowledge the source of earning.

Regarding gender and Adaptation, it was discussed that differential access to resources needed for adaptation gives rise to gender differences in vulnerability to climate change. We also discussed that access does not necessarily mean control. To access those resources required for carrying out household activities, women often have to toil more owing to the impacts of climate change on these resources like water, forest and land.

Developing a gender lens enables us to challenge patriarchy and develop a commitment to justice and equality. The project activities need to demonstrate inclusiveness as well as a commitment to address inequalities of caste, gender, religion, class, ableism, age and others. It is important to remember that gender is a cross cutting issue and issues of gender have to be addressed within all parameters of identity. An empowering vision needs to be developed which we would want to implement and we expect, as part of Research into Use, the research findings will enable a nuanced understanding of empowerment options and lead to suggestions for gender sensitive adaptation proposals.

The DECCMA Work Package structure was also discussed during the Workshop. Work Packages 1, 3 and 6 incorporate gender right from the data collection processes and ensuring equal participation of men, women and others at stakeholder events and household surveys will lead to a gender equitable process. Work Packages 2 and 4 rely on secondary data which is already sex-disaggregated. Under WP4, exploration of the effect of women’s micro-credit self-help groups on women and the economy can be assessed. Since Work Package 5 includes outputs from all the other WPs, gender is already included.

The workshop closed with the prospect of having a next one where the researchers will develop a plan about addressing gender in the work tasks of their different work packages.

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