Women and Climate Change
A host of Climate Change concerns bedevil Alwar’s women and girls, who are the primary sources of securing food for the family.
Alwar, located in a semi-arid region of Rajasthan, is witnessing a drastic water crisis due to the sharp reduction in rainfall and the depletion of the groundwater. The last time the region received optimum rainfall for agriculture was in 1996. In 2014, it received 477.8 millimetres—a departure of -23.7 per cent from the normal rainfall. Agriculture in this drought-prone area is practised at nature's mercy. These climatic conditions are making life even more difficult for the women of this region.
My realisation during my visits to the several villages of the Ramgarh and Bheror blocks has been about how Climatic Change in this region is impacting women and girls far greater than men and boys—assigning more reason for their voices to be heard.
"This year, bajra didn't survive because of the lack of rainfall," says Raziya Begum, a woman farmer of Nangravaleiya Dhani, a hamlet in Piprodi GP of Ramgarh Block. Women and girls in rural areas play a critical role in producing the food which is consumed at home. More women work in agriculture than men. In fact, more than a majority of the work on farms is done by women. On an average, they also work for longer hours than men. The women are primarily responsible for rearing livestock, while the men tend to be more involved in growing cash crops (like cotton) that are sold in the open market.
The changes in climate have had severe adverse impacts on the crop yield. Women in this region are mostly unaware of the farming techniques which are resilient to Climate Change. Therefore, their ability to provide food for their families is decreasing as the crop yields decrease, which, in turn, is threatening food security. This is leading to the increased burden of work in the farms, coupled with the lack of alternative livelihood options for securing food for the family. Also, women are often paid less than men for the same manual work. The women in the region also migrate for two or three months to states like Punjab, during cotton-harvesting, with their husbands.
Women have always been, and still are, responsible for the majority of the housework, in addition to their child-bearing and nurturing roles. From the collection of fuelwood to cooking and from washing clothes to fetching water—women and girls accomplish nearly every task. Drinking water is another problem, because of the depletion in the groundwater level. The lack of rainfall and the excessive extraction of groundwater for agriculture have led to the depletion of the groundwater level, to a great extent.
"The groundwater level has depleted to 800-1000 feet. Not all households are able to spend around Rs two lakh for digging bore wells," says Shima, a villager of Milakhpur village of the Ramgarh block. Women spend a significant amount of their time fetching water. Almost every woman from Shima's village wakes up at 3 AM to stand in a queue to fetch water by drawing up buckets, one after the other, from the lone source of water in the vicinity every day. This excessive work has reduced their time for leisure and has also adversely impacted their health. This makes them even more vulnerable to the impact of Climate Change in this region.
Gender inequality is also predominant here. The women have limited scope for participating in active decision-making within their households. They generally have no ownership of land or assets and their mobility is limited. Sex and gender-based violence are also rampantly prevalent here. They also lack employment opportunities, have limited access to resources and are not paid an equal share (as the men) for the work they do.
The cultural norms of the region also legitimise this inequality. There is also a lack of gender-based adaptation budgets for state policies for the primary sector, including risk insurance and watershed development. These constraints are severely complicating the situation for women and girls.
Women play critical roles in our communities. If they have a limited say in decision-making and their skills are not fully utilised, they will not be able to respond and contribute to containing the problem of Climate Change and ensuring food security and overall sustainable development. And, this will not only affect them—it will also destabilise the whole home-based economy. Their voices must be heard for keeping life here alive and mobile.
(The views expressed are strictly personal)