The women who were part of the Chipko Movement in 1973 resisted the cutting of forests. They told the loggers “If the forest is cut, the soil will be washed away. Landslides and soil erosion will bring floods, which will destroy our fields and homes, our water resources will dry up, and all other benefits that we get from the forest will be finished.” Despite the threats to their lives, the women stood firmly between the loggers and the trees.
Some of us may wonder why women were so protective. To answer this question, Bina Agarwal, an economist rightly put it that there is a direct relationship between the marginalisation of nature and women. Why is it so? Because, traditionally, it is the women who were more connected to the environment than men. Men had the option to engage in different types of work, but the collection of forests produce—fuel and fodder—has been more or less expected of women.
The recent example of environmental degradation such as the Amazon fire, heatwaves in Europe, many parts of India hit by flood and drought simultaneously, the water crisis in Tamil Nadu, and so on, is majorly due to indiscriminate consumption and also, deforestation and other unsustainable practices. As per the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, carbon emissions are increasing at a fast pace. This could be detrimental to the tropical regions with huge population density. India is projected to be the most populous country in the coming years, as per reports.
By and large, if tropical regions are in the most dangerous position due to climate adversity, it is the women who would have to bear the most problems, especially those hailing from marginalised sections. The tribal communities and those women who live in proximity to the environment are more dependent on natural products. So, their sufficiency with the environment would lessen with climate change.
There are various studies which prove that the quality of soil, water and land would become very low if we do not take action now. Not only this, but pollution levels will increase, which those from marginalised communities face the brunt of. With these changes, the marginalised will become more prone to poverty, and this would also reduce women’s access to education.
Due to this series of events, they would not be able to attain economic mobility, and they would have to compromise their health as well. For example, in Maharastra’s Beed district, women were undergoing hysterectomies to increase their productivity. This lack of knowledge plus a separation from a healthy environment will affect them emotionally, socially, and psychologically.
I would say that ‘popular’ media nowadays is engaged in the polarisation of communities in India. Though the issue is especially pertinent to India’s vulnerable population, the media has not been highlighting the relationship between the environment and gender.
There needs to be constant debate and discussion on media platforms so that we can increase awareness among people. Considering how the media is one of the strong pillars of democracy (there are innumerable examples of the use of press during the Independence movement and during Emergency), it should exercise its role to bring out these not-so-mainstream issues extensively. The popularisation of the ‘Gender-Climate’ perspective would induce the government and the public both to act accordingly.
Firstly, there is a need to initiate awareness drives linking gender and climate issues through mass media (newspapers, television, social media). Politically, the government should start programs to significantly reduce carbon emissions through more investments in renewable energy. Also, the government must not evict tribals from forests which are not only their economic support but also emotional support.
Socially, women’s health and education should be given due importance, especially to those belonging to areas that are directly affected by climate change. At last, we, as citizens, need to reduce our consumption of energy and resources.
Note: The author is part of the current batch of the Writer’s Training Program.