This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Divy Bhagia. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Photostory: For India’s Women, Climate Change Has Already Gotten Out Of Hand

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 millimeters 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, color, 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 & 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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Bidisha was selected in Change.org’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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