Climate change to hit poor women the hardest: Study

T V Jayan New Delhi | Updated on November 26, 2019

Adaptation strategies triggered by environmental stress to increase their responsibilities and burden, says the study

Environmental stress triggered by climate change will hit women living in climate change hotspots in Asia and Africa the hardest, with the adaptation strategies often opted for, increasing their responsibilities and burden, a study showed on Monday.

An international team that included researchers from India, Nepal, Pakistan and South Africa, led by Nitya Rao of East Anglia University in the UK, arrived at this conclusion by studying thousands of women through 25 case studies across three different hotspots in Asia and Africa -- semi-arid regions, mountain and glacier-fed river basins and deltas.

Among the geographical locations studied in India were Bengaluru, Kalaburugi and Kolar districts in Karnataka; Ahmednagar district in Maharashtra; Coimbatore district in Tamil Nadu; Kalimpong district in West Bengal; West district in Sikkim, and Rudraprayag and Tehri Garhwal districts in Uttarakhand. Also included in the study were the Indian Bengal Delta and Mahanadi Delta.

Their study appeared in the latest issue of the journal Nature Climate Change on Monday. The researchers have been working on this for the past five years through a project called Collaborative Adaptation Research in Asia and Africa (CARIAA) funded by IDRC Canada and DFID, part of UK aid.

Anjali Prakash of the Hyderabad-based TERI School of Advanced Studies and Chandni Singh and Prathigna Poonacha of the Indian Institute of Human Settlements, Bengaluru, were the researchers from India involved in the study.

"While we know that poverty adversely affects the capacity of people to adapt, what was more surprising was the role of social institutions at all levels – from the household and community to markets and states – and how the rules and norms they establish act in combination to either enable or hinder women’s agency," said Rao, the main author and a professor of Gender and Development at East Anglia.

She said poverty is recognised as a factor hindering adaptation, because poor households generally tend to be more vulnerable, they have fewer assets or resources to fall back on. Women often suffer from gender wage gaps in labour markets, low quality work and absence of effective state support.

"While some social protection does exist and is very important, this is often not universal, so the most vulnerable, those with no social contacts, or in remote regions, might get left out," Rao said. The researchers cited the universal public distribution system for cereals in India and pensions and social grants in Namibia as examples for social protection measures.

More importantly, the researchers found that state provisioning of essential services was grossly inadequate across the study sites - drinking water, clean energy, child care and healthcare facilities. "If women have to spend more time collecting fuel or fodder, or performing other reproductive tasks, they are further disadvantaged in the choice of income earning opportunities," said Rao.

While male migration for work does contribute to enhanced incomes, the degree of such support is both uncertain and irregular. Confronted with issues of everyday survival, in the absence of supportive infrastructure and services, women often work harder, in poorer conditions, and for lower wages, across the hotspots studied, with negative well-being outcomes, seen particularly in the neglect of their health and nutrition.

"Our analysis suggests that some common conditions such as male migration and poor working conditions for women combine with either institutional failure, or poverty, to constrain women's ability to make choices and decisions. However, these barriers, if addressed in creative ways, could potentially strengthen adaptive capacities, and enable more effective adaptation," said Rao.

Published on November 26, 2019

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