As Climate Change Escalates, It Will Affect The Women Disproportionately

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As climate change escalates, reports suggest it will affect the women, especially in the developing world, disproportionately. Image only for representation purposes.

As we celebrate Women’s Day this year, perhaps the biggest global challenge women face is climate change. Nobel Laureate, Dr Wangari Maathai, notes, women in developing countries are going to be at the forefront of this battle. This is compounded by multiple deprivations such as poverty and food insecurity, given that 70% of those living on less than USD$ 1 a day are women.

High barriers to finance, land and technology mean women continue to be disproportionately affected. Policy action is quintessential. But beyond the narratives of oppression, Women’s Day offers a chance to appreciate women as change agents, leading the global climate battle and pioneering adaptation techniques.

Women As Victims Of Climate Change

Women face high climate risk, given poor health conditions, low capabilities such as the inability to swim and inadequate access to essential health and education services. For example, the biggest victims of natural disasters and public health hazards like air pollution continue to be women.

Moreover, resource scarcity and climate stress contribute to women’s vulnerability as they spend additional hours making precarious journeys to collect water or wood. Resource scarcity and food insecurity often come at the cost of girls’ education as girls leave school to assist with household chores, risking their health in doing so.

Resource scarcity and food insecurity often come at the cost of girls’ education as they are forced leave school to assist with household chores. Image for representation only.

Climate change also poses challenges to women’s livelihoods. For example, women face high exposure to climate hazards as they are responsible for 60-80% of agriculture in developing countries. Moreover, researchers found that female-led businesses in Sub-Saharan Africa have barriers to building resilience due to poor access to technology.

Natural disasters such as bushfires and droughts also exacerbate the risk of domestic violence against women in rural areas. As discussed in this article, in the aftermath of climate-induced conflicts, poor social security and lack of legal recognition excludes women from relief provisions like credit, insurance, healthcare or employment.

Another challenge women face is climate-induced migration. For example, young migrant women are often exploited and abused as found in the case of Bangladeshi and Nepali girls seeking work in India. There is also a cost for women who are left in rural areas. For example, in Bangladesh, most male family members were unable or simply unwilling to send money back to their households, leaving the women to find other means of survival during these periods of migration.

Whilst this discussion merely touches the tip of the iceberg, it highlights the need for policy action. For instance, the impacts of climate-induced migration on women require immediate attention. This is currently not even being monitored by government agencies in South Asia. Action Aid recommends a pre-emptive approach, empowering women through training “in disaster preparedness strategies, including early warning systems, search and rescue, emergency response and relief distribution.”

Women As Change Agents

As the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, notes in his 2020 Women’s Day speech, “without women’s leadership and full participation, we will never achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development or defeat climate change.” The intersectionality between achieving development goals and combating climate change needs to be recognised. This approach requires a further step: viewing women as more than victims, rather as change agents, driving this agenda.

From teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg to Eunice Foote, the scientist who first demonstrated effects of CO2 on global temperatures, there is no shortage of women climate heroes. They all, however, have faced opposition. Thunberg has overcome vitriol hurled by the US President Donald Trump, inspiring a movement of Young US Conservatives, who aim to integrate climate policy in the Republican Party. Foote’s findings were ignored by the international community, and regrettably attributed to a man, who reproduced her results subsequently.

Greta has overcome vitriol hurled by the US President Donald Trump, inspiring a movement of Young US Conservatives, who aim to integrate climate policy in the Republican Party.

Numerous studies indicate that not only are women more concerned about climate change, they are also more likely to take action, from sustainable food choices (e.g. veganism) to greater resilience at the household level.

Notably, women climate activism is a global phenomenon, crossing race and class divisions. For example, closer home, Women’s Squad, a community of women in Barishal, Bangladesh, are finding climate solutions at the local scale to benefit their businesses and families. Women are also using their ICT skills, leveraging big data and Fintech as catalysts for climate action. This is demonstrated UNEP Young Champion of the Earth, Sonika Manandhar, who created a Green Energy Mobility platform to help Nepali women own electric minibuses through low-interest financing.

Still A Long Way To Go

Despite the increasing media attention, women’s climate ideas don’t always translate to policy solutions. Licypriya Kangujam, the young climate activist and winner of the World Children Peace Prize, recently shunned the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, arguing that women’s views don’t just need to be honoured, but their voices must be heard and proposals implemented by policymakers.

For example, Swayam Shikshan Prayog, an NGO, has enabled more than 60,000 rural women entrepreneurs to start businesses in clean energy and sustainable agriculture. This gives women ownership of policy action. Global grassroots movements include one million women, a movement pioneered by Natalie Isaacs, the author of Every woman’s guide to save the planet.

At the international level, whilst women have been key players in climate policymaking as seen in Christiana Figueres’ pivotal role in negotiating the Paris Agreement, women’s overall participation remains limited, especially in areas like climate finance.

Ultimately, in the words of Elinor Ostrom, the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in Economics, a polycentric approach is needed. This includes women and men, of all ages, countries and walks of life, coming together to take climate action. Be it planting a tree or marching on the streets, we all have a role to play in protecting Mother Earth.

This post has been written by a YKA Climate Correspondent as part of #WhyOnEarth. Join the conversation by adding a post here.
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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