Social relations, position and mobility: inclusive, partially inclusive or exclusive for all?

People are positioned differently in terms of their access to and control over assets. While some have direct control, others access these through mediators, often requiring extra effort. This shapes women’s and men’s capacities, incentives and preferences for how to access, use and control the assets defining their social position. Narratives presented in the previous sections show evidence of vulnerability and its impact on people lower in the socio-economic hierarchy, irrespective of their elevation. In the mid- and high hills, differential water access was seen that indirectly resulted in increased drudgery for women from SC households, while in the plains, we found no uniform distribution of government taps. This highlights the need to focus on changing gender relations around water to yield a better understanding of the impacts of drinking water supply interventions on women’s quality of life, rather than estimating impact simply in terms of conventional indicators of women’s water burdens.

Further, it was observed that women across all communities acquire agricultural land through men (i.e., mainly husbands) who inherit, own and control land. It was also observed in the plains that for educational purposes, the men of the family may be sent outside the village to attend university or diploma courses, which increase their chances of getting jobs outside farming. Women attend educational institutions within a 3-4-km radius of the village and are often married off after their education. However, they make take up jobs like teaching within the village. This trend was also observed in the high and mid-hills sites, where men belonging to socially dominant castes, having better access to education, financial resources and social networks, were more likely to migrate. Further, differential labour force participation and wages was seen at all elevations, with women employed in private construction earning lower pay than men for the same job role (Rs. 250/day for women and Rs. 300/day for men). This again highlights that social relations, position and mobility might not be inclusive for all, and differ in different social, political and economic settings, dynamically shaping “gender as a critical variable in shaping resource access and control” (Rocheleau et al., 1996).. However, how social position and mobility will play out in terms of climate change is yet to be fully seen and was not explored through this research.

Willingness to learn, evolve and adapt to climatic variability: intrinsic or socially contingent?

Operational rules that define the roles and responsibilities of men and women have been intrinsic to gendered institutions. These rules have been evolving very gradually in all the elevations, with men and women starting to diversify their livelihoods to cope with the changing climate. From field observations it was noted that operational rules are interwoven with the cultural mesh of the system that defines the level of conformism to caste norms and customary principles. Therefore, evolution at the level of collective choice rules and constitutional choice rules will always hinge on the ability of men and women from communities to resist and move away from, rather than conforming to, the operational rules. Accordingly, in the high and mid-hills, with an increase in men’s out-migration, women have a greater say in both productive and reproductive activities and find themselves more aware within their households. But differential access based on caste still exists, which shows that the strains of social conformism are still strong. In the plains, the degree of conformism is greater, meaning that any change in the operational rules will take place at a much slower pace. Therefore, in all sites, the actual empowerment of the lower-caste (SC) communities is very slow, hinting that willingness and social conformity should be seen in unison in order to represent a more realistic picture.

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