How are poor women in Bangladesh, India and Nepal managing to protect their lives, homes, assets and livelihoods from weather-related hazards? This study of women in rural communities in the Ganga river basin shows that they have started to adapt to climate change and can clearly articulate what they need to secure and sustain their livelihoods. Their priorities include: a safe place to live and store their harvest and livestock during the monsoon season; better access to services such as training; and information about adaptation strategies and livelihood alternatives. They also need access to resources in order to implement effective strategies and overcome constraints. Adaptation funds must play a key role in promoting women’s rights.
Women are more exposed than men to climate shocks, yet have fewer resources with which to meet these challenges. Women make up 70 per cent of the world’s poor people. Their unequal position in society means women have less access to money, land, food, protection from violence, education or healthcare. Increased water- and heat-related diseases will add to women’s care-giving burden and to threats to their own health. In addition, women are more dependent on natural resources for their subsistence. As crop yields decline and resources become scarcer, women’s workloads will expand, reducing opportunities to work outside the home or attend school.
Despite their relative poverty and particular vulnerability to climate change, women have not been specifically targeted in adaptation activities funded as part of bilateral and multilateral programmes. Poor women are seldom involved in decision-making processes on adaptation. Nevertheless, they are not passive victims of climate change and can clearly articulate their needs. The research in the Ganga basin found that:
- Crop diversification and adapted agricultural practices were deemed essential by many women in the three countries. However, women felt they lacked the capacity to adopt new agricultural practices. Therefore, they want support to learn about: flood and drought-resistant crops; the suitability of different crop varieties for particular climatic conditions; the proper use of items such as manure, pesticides and irrigation; post-harvesting technologies and improved animal husbandry.
- Women from Nepal in particular insisted on the importance of exposure visits and skills training to allow them to increase their income through alternative livelihoods.
- Safety is a major concern for all, but especially for women in their role as carers.
- Maintaining access to doctors, pharmacists, vets and agricultural extension services was considered important. During flooding, communities are often cut off from these services.
In order to ensure that existing and future adaptation financing is able to support those women most at risk of climate change, proactive and inclusive efforts must prioritise the needs of poor women:
- Ensuring procedural justice in the design and implementation of adaptation financing. Agencies involving and representing poor women must be given access to negotiations, adaptation programmes, information and funds.
- Prioritising the needs of poor women in adaptation funds. Guidance and operational criteria must be created to target them specifically.
- Monitoring how adaptation funds target and benefit women. Disaggregated gender-sensitive indicators must be included.
- Creating mechanisms enabling women’s participation in adaptation fund management. Civil society should be involved to monitor women’s access to funds and the equal representation of women on relevant committees.
- Ensuring that adaptation finance mechanisms are able to support the livelihood adaptation priorities of poor women.
- Ensuring that states provide an enabling environment for women’s participation, protecting women’s rights and facilitating equal access to decision making, resources and services.