Gender and Climate Change addressed for the first time at the XV National Conference on Women’s Studies, India

Inaugural session of the conference

Inaugural session of the conference

Gender and women’s rights are being increasingly addressed worldwide through movements and media, which are inspired by the realm of women’s studies. While this change is a welcome one, it also has to be kept in mind that the challenges and disparities still remain and a long way has to be traversed. At this juxtaposition of phenomenon, the Indian Association for Women’s Studies (IAWS) organised the XV National Conference on Women’s Studies at the University of Madras, Chennai from 22 – 25 January 2017 with a theme “Women in a Changing World: Restructured inequalities, counter currents and Sites of Resistance”.

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The conference had a number of sessions focussing on themes related to women’s issues however the theme on “Gender and Climate Change” was introduced for the first time in an IAWS conference. Dr Amrita Patel (DECCMA) and Prof Nitya Rao (ASSAR) were the convenors of this sub-theme. Dr Patel chaired General Sessions, Prof Rao chaired sessions on Energy and Adaptation and Prof Asha Hans (DECCMA) also chaired a session on Flood and Deltas.

With two members from Sansristi as Session-chairs and four researchers as paper-presenters, DECCMA objectives and research undertaken were disseminated well. Brief summaries of the presentations are as follows:

Farha Naaz (Centre for Environment and Development) presented a paper titled “Climate Change and Adaptation: Strategy and coping mechanism – Role of women Self Help Groups in Indian Bengal Delta”. The presentation was based on the work done earlier by CED but the study area is a part of the DECCMA Study Area. DECCMA research studies the impacts of climate change on deltaic populations and involves having baseline knowledge on migration and adaptation initiatives taking place in the study areas and this study corroborates that. The presentation discussed the post-2009 Cyclone Aila scenario in IBD where male migration is on the rise as the delta in becoming increasingly vulnerable and the women who are left behind are tasked to take on more responsibility of the household looking after both the elderly and the children. In such a situation, Women Self Help Groups (SHGs) started acting as powerful means of social development and an important tool of micro financing. The scheme of micro financing through SHGs has given significant economic power to the hands of women thereby elevating the economic status of their families.

Gender and climate change session in progress

Gender and climate change session in progress

Jasmine Giri (Sansristi) presented a paper titled “Climate change effects on women: a case study of Odisha”. DECCMA has a strong focus on gender in its research components and this presentation based on secondary analysis examined the impact of disasters on women’s livelihood in Jagatsingpur district of Odisha. The paper relied on secondary data to identify the impact of disasters in the district and its effect on women’s livelihood, particularly after the super cyclone Kalinga in 1999. The dominant livelihood in Jagatsingpur area is agriculture and fisheries and thus the community, specifically the women are vulnerable to the slightest changes in the availability or access to these natural resources. The coping mechanisms adopted by women in such a situation were also shared.

Sukanya Banerjee (Centre for Environment and Development) presented a paper titled “Climate Change and Male Migration: Role of Women in the Changed Environ”. During the presentation, DECCMA’s overview was shared followed by the adverse impacts of Climate Change on the vulnerable Indian Bengal Delta (IBD) and its people. This presentation was also based on work done earlier by CED but the study area is a part of the DECCMA Study Area and the study was adapted to this presentation to throw light on DECCMA’s research questions pertaining to migration. The paper primarily focused on the fact that cyclone Aila wreaked havoc in IBD in 2009 as a result of which many people lost their livelihoods and 50% of able bodied males were compelled to migrate out of their homes to as many as 10 different states in India to work as unskilled labour in the real estate sector. The regular remittances which they send to their families as a result of this ‘climate induced’ migration has brought about a significant change in the social construct of the area. The women of the households were suddenly burdened with a new sense of responsibility in the form of being the new household heads in the absence of the male members of their families. The need for empowerment of women was also focused on to adapt to climate change.

Sumanta Banerjee (Chilika Development Authority) presented a paper titled “Linking Women Empowerment, Resilience in the context of Climate change: A case study of Bhusandapur in the shore of Chilika lake of Odisha” which aimed to conceptualize and understand the links of women’s empowerment and resilience in the context of the climate change. This presentation was based on Focus Group Discussions conducted in Bhusandapur village of Tangi block in Khordha district of Odisha. The environmental fragility of the study area was explained in the context of indicators of climate variability and then with the help of women’s empowerment framework by Longwe (1995), the paper looked at resilience as the result of absorptive, adaptive, and transformative capacities. The absorptive and adaptive capacities responses were captured and subsequently with the help of an example the transition phase of the Bhusandapur village was explained. Then, the successful case study of tent-house and Dry-fish business led by women’s organization in the context of climate change adaptation was linked with the primary objective of the study.

All the researchers felt that interactions with other researchers and attending relevant lectures helped them to gain a deeper understanding on the issues plaguing women in a changing world, be it employment, inequalities, discrimination, violence or women farmers (labour, livelihoods and resource rights). Case studies as shared by the speakers helped to bring together instances from across the country to one platform. In the theme Session 10 on Climate Change, discussions focussed on the impacts of climate change on health, socio economic conditions, particularly on women, and the risks and vulnerabilities that women face in the context of climate change. Adaptation strategies, coping mechanisms and approaches of mitigation were also discussed. This theme did not have as many presentations as compared to the other themes which may throw some light on the need to bring attention to the emerging issue of how a changing climate can have differential impacts based on gender. However, akin to a baby’s first step where the effort has to be continued to make sure the wobbliness disappears, this effort of addressing gender and climate change has to be continued to make our concerns visible.

This post was written with contributions from reports written by Dr Amrita Patel, Prof Nitya Rao, Ms Farha Naaz, Ms Jasmine Giri, Ms Sukanya Banerjee and Mr Sumanta Banerjee.

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