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How Access To Resources Can Help Women Participation In Climate Change Discourse

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Building upon decades of international diplomatic relations and scientific research, the United Nations adopted the “2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” in 2015. Most prominently, it highlighted 17 “Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)” to be achieved in the span of 15 years to achieve holistic global development.

Focusing on two of the most well-known SDGs: Gender Equality (SDG 5) and Climate Action (SDG 13), a webinar organised by Gender Impact Studies Center, Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), Delhi Post News and Gender Centre for Research and Innovation, Gurugram on Natural Resources and Women in India: Challenges, Impact and the Way Forward amid COVID-19 Pandemic.

Ms Seema Kulkarni focused on two broad areas. Firstly, the need to tackle gender-blind policies and programmes globally and attune them to the nuances of sociocultural dynamics. Secondly, the urgency to understand the relational perspectives in access and control over natural resource management to achieve the former.

Drawing upon the apparently distinct experiences of environment for both the genders, she stresses upon the various avenues where power play is at work, impeding social progress. The daily activities for both sexes lay in stark contrast due to the normative social bindings they face.

Traditionally, research has fallaciously been a victim of a homogenous construction of gender. The demographics such as social class, caste, religion and ethnicity, have significantly impacted their starkly differentiated access and actions. This, as a result, further complicates the power relations amongst women as viewed from different social lenses.

Another important component previously missing from the discourse was the bearing capitalist reforms have over this gender-environmental microcosm.

The seminal neoliberal reforms of the 1990s have resulted in a concerted move towards the capitalisation of nature and dispossession of resources to the poor. In addition to the existing categories, the neoliberal wave has been a preeminent factor in shaping the economic dynamics of the sociocultural paradigm.

women work
Representative Image.

While pointing out emerging constructs, she highlighted, “There had been an increased attention to women in all walks of life with the development of the second-wave feminist movement of the 1970s. The era was defined by a focus on the wood fuel crisis and the rural women’s association with it. The degradation of the environment was viewed as impairing the rural and indigenous lives, especially impacting women.

“With the damage came increased time and drudgery for accessing resources, pushing forward a narrative painting women as victims in a rural climate. The successive decade saw rising participation of women in frontal roles in environment advocacy movements, globally as well as nationally. A quintessential example is the Chipko Andolan which gained recognition in the UN Conference on the environment in 1972.”

Nationally, the scope towards environmentalism broadened with anti-nuclear movements as well as a better understanding of gendered environmental dynamics. Women’s leadership was an added benefit in shifting the view of women as victims to “privileged knowers” due to their special relationship with nature.

Subsequent years saw an increased integration of women advisors and participation of the female labour force in critical ways. However, the programmes adopted a narrow, instrumentalist approach in seeking merely efficiency improvement rather than a more in-depth reformation of the existing systems.

Some others fell prey to tokenism and ended up under-utilising women’s knowledge. These, although aimed at environment regeneration, in lieu of more engaging activities, adopted topical measures like tree plantation, nursery, afforestation, energy development.

Moreover, in incorporating female participation, these programmes only added (futile) a burden on these women without challenging the current division of labour.

After being neglected in academia for the better part of the 20th Century, theories of “women and development” emerged in the 1970-80s. These examined the incorporation of women in climate action and environmentalism without challenging the pre-existing sociocultural paradigm.

The succeeding theories on “gender and development” provided a more holistic, relational view of the underlying societal, cultural and economic variables in the climate question. These inquired and challenged the conundrum of “man vs. nature” as well as his mastery over it.

Representative Image.

Ecofeminism has played a central point in critiquing the destruction of nature and the perspective towards women’s bodies. Disregarding the environment would mean disregarding women as there is plenty of truth to the prominence of women in environmental concerns as both helpers and victims.

Ecofeminism itself has its distributaries specialising in several marginalised communities, political viewpoints as well as societal structures. Ms Kulkarni quoted various ecofeminists such as Prof Bina Agarwal, Maria Mies and Vandana Shiva.

Contemporarily, she has identified gender gaps in four prominent ways. The first includes a difference in access to resources such as water, livestock, fodder and fuel. Next, women’s knowledge has a lesser valuation in their communities and from a financial standpoint.

Moreover, women suffer from a disproportionately large share in an unequal division of labour. This translates into lower participation in governance and political institutions with ease. With restricted access to resources come limited opportunities, leading to repression of women’s agency with deep impacts on individual and social, legal, cultural and economic levels.

A comparative study highlighted by Ms Kulkarni shows casteism where SC/STs and other minority groups had claim over a much smaller magnitude of land and they are equipped with poor to negligible irrigation facilities. It presented how minority communities had marginal land holdings along with disproportionately lower access to irrigation.

To find the gendered impact within these communities is difficult owing to no disaggregated data. With women being responsible for 70% of global food production, there seems to be a recent trend in the “feminisation of agriculture”. Agriculture famously accounts for over two-thirds of the Indian female labour force as opposed to barely half its male counterpart.

Yet, women’s employment in agriculture is seen to decline from 31% (2011-12) to 22% (2015-16). Hence, despite accounting for a large part of the agricultural labour force, a significant quantity remains unemployed — their work comprises unpaid farm labour and other nourishment or caring activities.

climate change women
Representative Image.

Moreover, according to the operational holders’ data (2015-16), as per the quinquennial Agricultural Census, 85% of landowners in India are men. Not only do women comprise a gawking minority in land ownership, but all of them are also small and marginal holders. This has roots in an inherent aversion towards credit extension towards women resulting in generally poor asset ownership.

For existing owners, there is very little access to newer technologies for more efficient production and insurance for the protection of their assets in use. This has led to abysmal employment and land ownership opportunities in agriculture, forest management and other environmental ventures.

Naturally, to bring forth the necessary change, it is crucial to shed light on the struggles these women face and the knowledge and skills they bear, indicating their importance in environmental discourse.

More schemes and programmes should focus on uplifting women economically, not merely as a mechanism to alleviate institutional violence. This aspect of gender-responsive budgeting needs to expand beyond violence and safety and to inclusivity of access to resources.

While microfinance groups and local lenders are a tremendous help, they also expose women to financial precarity. The government needs to regulate and assist in financial as well as material redistribution of resources. It is especially important with technocratic institutions “liberal” capital lending.

women work
Representative Image.

The neoliberal model is an essentially extractive model of development in its chemical-intensive approach to the capitalisation of nature and dispossessing the poor. By rectifying these institutions, the government can pave the way for an increased bureaucratic representation of women in micro, meso and macro agricultural, forest and water institutions.

Till democratic participation — as suggested by Prof Agarwal as a “ladder of participation” — can be achieved, there is a need to boost it via quota.

Owing to the migration of men to urban areas and increased farmer suicides, women labourers have been increasingly trapped into unpaid labour. These have far-reaching social consequences in increased school dropouts, scanter attention and provisions for daughters, as well as a surge in gendered crimes.

Re-envisioning NREGA and other employment schemes can aid in the reallocation of work, decreasing unpaid labour and access to opportunities to marginalised groups. As a result, policies founded in the harsh realities of these individuals, rather than ambitious but ambiguous goals, can much more effectively come to fruition.

Having identified these issues, it is critical to understand the intersectional nuances of these social relations. It is by a sincere, combined effort towards this that we can truly hope to achieve sustainable development.

Acknowledgements: Renuka Bhat is a research intern at Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), New Delhi and a recent BSc Economics graduate from NMIMS’ School of Economics, Mumbai.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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 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.

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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.”

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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
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

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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