This study analyses the situation of Dalit and Lama households in the Humla district of Nepal. Their livelihoods have been adversely affected by a shift in the monsoon season, a decrease in snowfall and longer dry periods. The study finds that Dalits are pushing caste boundaries, but that gender boundaries are remaining resilient even during crisis. Gendered, and caste-related, relations of dependency both enable and constrain capacities to adapt to climate change. By focusing on social structures such as dependency, caste- and gender-unequal relations, development actors can craft more holistic adaptive responses that maximise opportunities to improve the wellbeing of vulnerable peoples.
Despite a number of studies on climate change adaptation, only a few have examined the gender and cultural dynamics of the adaptation process. Inequality has been identified as a major indicator of the vulnerability of individuals and groups. Nevertheless, the gender and cultural aspects of inequality have not received much emphasis.
It appears that adaptation to climate change is a dynamic process, bringing into being new caste positions and relations, while possibly keeping some gender norms intact and deepening intercaste and gender relations. This can be seen in Humla district, one of the poorest and most underdeveloped regions of Nepal. Humla has no road links and very limited natural and financial resources. Due to their isolation, people in Humla draw on human capital from their social relations to adapt to climate changes:
- The Dalit households of Burgaon village are adapting by planting buckwheat twice a year, intensifying their trade links and exploring day labour opportunities in the district centre, Simkot.
- Dalit men have been able to use patron-client relationships of labour reciprocity with Lama households. They are also beginning to travel with Lama men to the Nepal-China border for business, which could potentially relax caste-related barriers between Lama and Dalit men.
- Dalit women have continued to seek more day-labour employment within the village and to receive in-kind compensation for their services. They are making use of the entitlements associated with their hierarchical relationships with landowning Lama families to secure their livelihoods.
- Despite the different strategies, Dalit women and men chiefly harness their traditional relationships of dependency and interconnectedness with Lamas.
Dependency relations in rural societies reveal important issues relating to adaptation and vulnerability. Gender and caste intersections specific to adapting to climate change provide new evidence of change and opportunities as well as resilient caste and gender practices. Relations between various social groups co-emerge and re-emerge, shape, and influence mutual adaptive capacity.