Photographs and Story – Divy Bhagia
Co-author – Manasvi Nag
A lady walking on the only road which accesses her village to the nearby town in Northern Gujarat. It is a common sight to see women walk for miles in 45 degrees of heat at a stretch due to the lack of public transport facilities. They normally cover 5 km to and fro regularly.
The global climate crisis that we are facing currently has the potential to disrupt the entire world’s equilibrium; from trade to sustenance. Combined with the ongoing pandemic, the situation is few millimetres from slipping out of hand. But for a majority of the world’s population, it already has gotten out of hand.
Women from every nationality, religion, colour, and caste face discrimination every step of their way. In fact, UN figures say that 80% of those displaced due to climate change are women.
Young girls from a village in Rajasthan on their way to fetch water. Many villages in India don’t have easy access to clean and safe drinking water and this task is a burden that often falls to women and young girls.
Amongst other countries, India faces a very high risk of getting affected by climate change. With people from different socio-economic groups and genders, women end up facing the wrath of climate change the most.
Women, however, have their own hierarchy of those affected the most as the roles of women from different socio-economic groups change with each layer. Rural women from poor socio-economic backgrounds communities fall at the bottommost level.
Women from the Rathwa tribe collecting mahua flowers from the forest bed. Tribal communities like ‘Rathwa’ not only use the forest as a resource for fulfilling their basic needs, but they also use it as a means of livelihood.
The umbrella term of Rural India comprises innumerable castes and communities; of which tribal groups are also a part. Even then, tribal groups are often excluded from ‘development’.
The traditional methods that are used by these tribal communities are much more sustainable for the environment even in today’s time. And still, people from these communities are often unaware of the concept of climate change in itself.
Basanti and her son with the majestic Aravalli Range in the background. Live-in relationships are a norm in the Garasia community where women retain a high status and are usually the head of the family. The tribe also has a tradition in which teenage children befriend their partner of choice at ‘a two-day courtship fair’; leading to women giving birth to a child at a very young age. Basanti is 19 y.o. And has a child who is at an age of 4 years.
It is not unnatural to come across households even in urban settings that are gender-biased and the women of which innately take up roles of caregivers and providers. In families from poorer socio-economic backgrounds, women have an added burden of poverty to deal with often combined with traditional customs and norms that often tie them to the households they are married into.
The many roles of women in these spaces include providing food, shelter, water, and all other resources to the members of the family; including procuring them.
Just like in any other 142 million rural households, Varshaben prepares food on a wood-burning stove. A major downfall effect of using biomass as fuel for cooking is an increased risk of respiratory diseases due to the smoke generated.
“This season I couldn’t harvest a lot because the entire season I was busy fixing the roof of my house which got damaged because of unseasonal rain,” says Rupa Ben, a 93 old farmer who lives alone on top of a hill in the tribal pockets of Gujarat, India.
Rupa ben is from the Tadvi community of Narmada district and lives alone on top of a hill without any electricity. At 93 years old, she uses tems of cotton crops to build the walls of her home.
Rupa ben’s income is restricted to a monthly pension of 800 rupees and the bare minimum she makes from selling her produce. Daily, Rupa ben carries her ‘gaagar (a metal pitcher)’ and goes up and down her hill to get water to sustain herself for the day.
“10-15 years ago, farming was much better. In an area like this, where one cannot farm except for in the monsoon, it is very important for the rains to come on time.” Says Rupa ben.
Rupa ben rests to catch a breath as she climbed to her home located on the top of a steep hill. With consumption and usage of 5l water per day, this is a daily routine she has to follow to survive.
Because of the uneven rain patterns the Tadvi community has produced lesser than what they can, resulting in a decreased income of the entire community.
Women from this region have been managing and producing the local resources with the help of traditionally acquired knowledge and adapting to climate change. As primary providers and caregivers, women start adapting to climate change rather unknowingly; by walking longer distances for water, food and fuel. The burden of domestic responsibility keeps getting heavier.
Young girls of the village fetch water, dressed in traditional clothing as their male counterparts pass them wearing jeans and strolling confidently. The difference in their demeanors depicts the deep-rooted gender-biased roles of girls and boys from the same socio-economic backgrounds.
Climate change results in lower produce which affects their economy in such a manner that poorer groups are forced to migrate to urban spaces in the hunt for jobs. However, climate change does not stop affecting women even when they move out of rural spaces.
While in search of jobs in urban settings, women often end up in situations where they are unable to sustain themselves and their families; which often forces them to leave their kids in the villages and migrate. In such cases, the role of primary providers for the children shifts from the mothers to the grandmothers.
As the parents of the family venture out in search of employment and livelihood, the responsibility of upbringing and nurturing their young ones fall upon the grandparents. This comes as a result of farming not being a profitable profession due to changing rain patterns. A clear depiction of changing family scenarios in developing times.
However, it is not uncommon for migrant families to move with their children; and, these children often miss out on basic nutrition, sanitation, education, and a childhood. These children grow up in conditions that badly hamper their development.
Lakshmi ben sits outside her makeshift house on the streets of Chandisar, a village in BanasKantha, feeding her child in the hot sun. As migrant laborers, their work includes digging roads and laying pipelines. Here, they work on a stretch of 10kms and use the leftover plastic pipes as makeshift houses.
Women affected by climate change are often unaware of age, young girls are taught to learn habits and practices that will make them the perfect mother and caregiver. This restriction on thought and education compels them to be restricted to their households which also deepens the wounds of patriarchy; be it in their thoughts or their attire.
Climate change has led to irregular rain patterns which makes farming possible only 4 months a year. Every member of this family is involved in tilling the landlord’s farm in return for ¼th of the produce which barely lasts them a few months.
The fight against climate change does not end with raising awareness; it is also about adapting to the adverse effects of it. Since women interact the most with the environment and their role as providers are vital, addressing the intersection of climate change with gender-based discrimination is of utmost importance.
The added lenses of race, caste, and socio-economic status make things worse for women across the world on an unimaginable scale.