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Mainstreaming Role of Gender in Climate Change Activism


In a remarkable follow-up to the Beijing Platform for Action (1995), the UN General Assembly highlighted the need to “involve women actively in environmental decision-making at all levels

By Salam Rajesh

It has always been on the agenda as to how and at what length gender issue is being addressed when it comes to the delicate task of activating human resources to tackle the climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies and processes at the grassroots. Gender is a current topic of active discussion in actually meeting targets on the ground.

Way back in 2008 during the 52nd session of the Commission on the Status of Women under the initiative of the United Nations General Assembly, an interactive expert panel discussion on “gender perspectives on climate change” was held with focus on the emerging issues, trends and new approaches to issues affecting the situation of women, or the equality between women and men in terms of addressing climate change issues.

The core agreement as outcome of the discussion in this session was of the expressed opinion that, “Addressing the threat of climate change is a current global priority. Unless it is effectively dealt with, climate change will have a dramatic impact on the environment and on economic and social development. Climate change is also likely to exacerbate both natural disasters and potentially conflicts over natural resources”.

On this very note, the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali (December, 2007) had clearly stated that Member States’ commitment to addressing climate change was crucial. This did form the basis of deliberations on the Bali Action Plan – a ‘crucial mandate to launch negotiations for the achievement of a comprehensive global agreement by the end of 2009’.

The Bali Action Plan confirmed that effectively addressing climate change requires both mitigation and adaptation action, as well as technology and financing. Mitigation involves a process of curbing greenhouse gas emissions from human activities, for example, emissions from fossil fuels as well as deforestation, with a view to stabilizing greenhouse gas concentration at a safe level. Adaptation involves a range of activities to reduce vulnerability and build resilience, for instance in key sectors such as water, agriculture and human settlements.

In a remarkable follow-up to the Beijing Platform for Action (1995), the UN General Assembly highlighted the need to “involve women actively in environmental decision-making at all levels, integrate gender concerns and perspectives in policies and programs for sustainable development, and strengthen or establish mechanisms at the national, regional and international levels to assess the impacts of development and environmental policies on women”.

At its 46th session in 2002, the Commission on the Status of Women had taken up climate change issues in addressing environmental management and the mitigation of natural disasters. The agreed conclusions adopted by the Commission had called for action to mainstream gender perspective into ongoing research by academics on the impact of climate change, including the root causes, and to encourage the application of the results of this research in policies and programs.

The 2002 session concluded that “Gender inequalities in access to resources, including credit, extension services, information and technology, must be taken into account in developing mitigation activities. Adaptation efforts should systematically and effectively address gender-specific impacts of climate change in the areas of energy, water, food security, agriculture and fisheries, biodiversity and ecosystem services, health, industry, human settlements, disaster management, and conflict and security”.

On this count, several questions crept up on understanding the gender issue with focus on the proactive participation of women in climate change issues. The questions ranged from the general to more penetrating queries on policy and decisions at various levels.

For instance, a first question is as to what steps can be taken up to mainstream gender perspectives into the climate change efforts at the national, regional and international levels – including in policies, strategies, action plans and programs. This would delicately place the different roles of men and women in their individual capacities in meeting the set goals.

Another question is as to what steps can be taken to reduce the vulnerability of women and to reduce the negative impacts of climate change, particularly in relation to their critical roles as in the rural areas in provision of water, food and energy. This question certainly reflects the participatory role of women in rural areas specifically, as in the upland areas of Manipur where difficult terrain makes the job more challenging.

A third question is as to what steps are being taken to increase the participation of women in decision making process on climate change at the different levels – block, district and state. This is critical where societies are male dominated and decision making basically lies with the elected representatives whom are men at most times.

A fourth question is as to what are the major contributions of women as agents of change in mitigation and adaptation to climate change at the local levels. This fundamentally brings out the existing structure at the grassroots where visibility of the women is quite low. There are few pockets where the voice of the women is heard, but in general that voice is certainly missing.

Quite interesting is a fifth question that looks at how critical issues for women in relation to technology and finances in addressing climate change at national and local levels is being addressed by district and state administrators. Fundamentally speaking, this is an issue that is certainly lacking in the State policy.

Finally, a critical question that needs to be answered by State administrators is as to what are the major achievements, and gaps and challenges, in ensuring adequate attention to gender perspectives in climate change efforts.

At the village level, there are formations of women Self Help Groups where it is expected that the SHG members can participate actively in climate change adaptation processes, whereas, when it comes to actualities, it is primarily observed that there is no specific directions for the SHGs on the subject matter of climate change adaptation measures.

Funding is always an issue to kick-start activities, but the more important question is to what extent women are entrusted with responsibilities to tackle the issue. Livelihoods is at the core of this discussion and when the policy does not actively address livelihood issue, there is less meaning for the women to take lead role in the process. The question, therefore, comes back to the basic issue as to whether women are seen as ‘good’ agents in achieving targets set under the UN’s mission on climate change strategies.

(The writer looks at environmental stories through the journalistic lens. He can be reached at [email protected])

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