Communities and gendered impact of climate change: risk management through adaptive strategies

Tracing common gendered trends across countries and gendered strategies adopted across borders has provided critical knowledge of gendered transformation at the community level. In the four countries in this volume, women’s contribution to the development of climate resilience can be seen in their robust response to the adverse impacts of climate change.

Specific strategies for each type of hazard are required in South Asia, as there are storm surges, cyclones, flooding, drought, sea-level rise, melting snow and landslides, as witnessed in the chapters in this volume. These changes traverse semi-arid zones, mountainous and delta regions. Heat has emerged as in important issue with which women have to cope, reducing their work output and creating health issues (Abbasi et al. in this volume). The learnings from various authors exploring gendered responses to climate change are reflected in their attempts to shift patterns of behaviour. The scholarship is well defined, for instance as a consequence of climate change women’s involvement in agriculture changes, often increasing, with women taking on additional roles as their men migrate in search of other work. Yet given their limited ownership of land, productivity and yields remain relatively low, particularly in contexts of climate change and food insecurity (Goodrich et al. 2019; Rao et al. 2020). With declining agricultural yields, women cope by shifting to cash crops, crop diversification and the adoption of climate-resilient crops, all of which boost their purchasing power and food security. However, it is usually men who remain the decision makers and carry out technology-related work. By relegating cash crops as an enterprise under men’s purview, society restricts women’s role in decision-making, while increasing demands on their time (Solomon, Rao in this volume).

One of the major contributions of the volume is the study of climate change related to water availability and differentiated water use practices in India that are impacting men and women within the household as well as the community. Water in South Asia has been a communal property (Mangi et al. 2019; Akter et al. 2017; Price et al. 2014). Its usage shows a shift from communal to individual control where purchasing power defines the gendered positioning, with women having less purchasing power. These impacts are differentiated across levels with shifts in work burdens within households, the erosion of traditional institutions at community level, and over-extraction and growing reliance on private water at a watershed level. For example, people with borewells can access water for irrigation and those with purchasing power can buy drinking water from tankers. Water shortages therefore have equity implications as they disadvantage the most marginalized and exacerbate existing vulnerabilities (Singh in this volume). Within households, women have to negotiate for the use of water, usually losing out, as men access it for irrigation, while women need it for maintaining livestock. Scheduled Caste women speak of appropriation of tanker water by upper-caste households and this finding accords with the increase in public water conflicts across India. We are increasingly becoming aware that when water shortages increase in climate-change situations, conflict over water will also increase (Mangi et al. 2019). Future research needs to both define and analyze the gendered impact of water conflict in climate-change situations. At the same time these conflicts are placing emphasis on new actors, such as middlemen who take advantage of these shortages, and this is an indicator of change linked to climate to which due attention must be paid by policy makers and researchers. The emergence of a private, informal water delivery sector undermines local sustainability and tends to exclude women-headed households. To face the challenge, a knowledge-based climate adaptation strategy can build women’s capacity and contribute to their knowledge.

Work on migration and climate change has been increasing, with migration visualized as a distress response to climate change across the hotspots. Usually young men move out in search of livelihoods as they have to cope with crop failures, deteriorating pastures and increasing poverty. This results in an increase in women-headed households. Migration across South Asia is seen as a positive strategy (Adger et al. 2015; Afifi et al. 2016; Gemenne and Blocher 2017), with different patterns of short-term, seasonal and more longer-term migration dominated by economic drivers (Abbasi in this volume), yet it has gendered outcomes.

Flousehold dynamics change “tangibly and intangibly” when men migrate (Hosegood et al. 2007; Nguyen and Locke 2014), as this leaves women behind as the sole carers and workers in the household. Women adapt by taking on male responsibilities in their absence. There is no indication whether workload benefits in the household are shared equally. Remittances from migrants do make a difference to the household, helping with poverty reduction and food security, as most remittances are spent on food

(Szabo et al. 2018). This is especially the case when migrants cross borders and send back foreign exchange, for example, in Bangladesh and India (Mahanadi Delta) (Vincent and Hazra in this volume).

Male migration needs more research, as vulnerability may not be confined to women, but also affects the men and the community. Migrating men face health issues as there is no health cover available when they work in the unorganized sector or face problems due to hazardous work (Udas et al. in this volume). Thus, climate change-linked migration requires new policy initiatives which are gendered and take into account the vulnerability of all groups.

While women have been adopting cash crops, hybrid seeds or mechanization (Qaisrani and Batool in this volume), seeking to build new skills for survival and strengthening livelihoods, they are often left out of technology change, or indeed finances to meet the new challenges. These inputs are usually identified as male needs and used as justifications for keeping women out of the fields of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) (Schmuck 2017). Women’s work continues to be recognized as only within the household, even if they head households and engage with markets. Climate change and variability affect women-headed households more than others as their access to resources and knowledge is limited. Gendered vulnerabilities are thus determined by local factors such as exclusion from the market and technological interventions, together with the social structures of the household, the community and the state. Capacity building and improved finances become essential to their survival.

In analyzing the above issues, the authors have highlighted differentiated caste and class structures, and the implications for resource distribution and hence for policy and research (Udas et al. in this volume). It can be argued that adaptation policies and programmes that are responsive to community needs, seek to create an equal playing field. If this does not happen, then climate responses end up widening gender gaps. Across the hotspots, there can be no single response or solution to the impacts of climate change, as gendered distinctions are part of the varied factors in household-community interplay. While women may exercise individual agency, this does not necessarily remove the social vulnerability to which they are subject.

 
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