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Women are soldiers, not victims

  • Published at 10:47 am February 19th, 2019
Gobeshona Conference_2019_4
Shekhar Mondal

Time to change the notion of woman as a marginalized class towards a resilient-adaptive group of the society

Gender sensitivity has always been one of the most contested parts of climate change negotiations. Often, the most devastating impact of climatic events affects women and children, especially if they belong to the poorer segments of a given society. UNFCCC found that “From rising sea levels to drops in farming yields and urban floods, the impacts of climate change are being acutely felt by women”. In addition to this women have a higher dependence on natural resources, experience greater rates of social stigmas and are often absent from the decision making processes, this ultimately puts them in a more vulnerable position due to climate change.

COP 24 in 2018 has been a crucial year for gender perspective as it adopted the Paris Agreement Work Programme, “Rule Book” which reviewed the Lima Work Programme on gender and the Gender Action Plan. It discussed the essentials of gender participation in the various policies, and how these may be implemented by governments worldwide.

Recently, for the fifth time, Gobeshona has arranged their international conference on climate knowledge at the Independent University of Bangladesh. Gobeshona brought together more than five hundred climate scientists, researchers and participants from home and abroad. On the third day of the conference, a session was conducted on “Gender” issues. It highlighted questions around gender and the significance of higher integration of women in climate change policies across the globe.  

If we raise the question, “Why do we need to be concerned about women specifically due to climate change?” many rationales would be stacking up in favour of the concern. A study of UNICEF found, globally 80 percent of people displaced by climate change are women. Aguilar (2004) mentioned that women and children are 14 times more likely to die than men during a disaster. 

In the 1991 cyclone which claimed 140 thousand lives in Bangladesh, 90 percent of the victims were women. “Bangladeshi women as a socially disadvantaged group are confronting serious negative consequences of climate change, impacts through their daily life experiences, depending on their geographic location and socio-economic conditions,” said Dr Mumita Tanjeela, Chairman of Sociology Department at East West University. 

Though women have a long history of adaptive knowledge on climate change, their role in agriculture, household, water management and community involvement have never gained the real recognition of the contributions. Instead, they are portrayed as a victim of the malnutrition, food security, safety and natural disasters. 

Unfortunately, most formal adaptation programs consider women contribution as a ‘tokenism’ involvement of gender-equal participation. Dr Mumita says that national climate change policies, like National Adaptation Programme of Action (NAPA) in 2005 and Bangladesh Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan (BCCSAP) in 2009 could not recognize the need of women dynamics properly. They are instead indicated as a vulnerable group in most of the policy papers. 

Bangladesh government has adopted SDG’s in 2015, and since then, many NGOs and government entities are working relentlessly towards implementing the commitments within 2030. Among the various goals, “gender equality” is a major one which is broadly categorized under SDG 5 - ‘Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls’. 

Sajal Roy, a lecturer at Department of Women and Gender Studies, Begum Rokeya University, said that in spite of efforts, it is not evident yet how far women are adapting with climate change shocks and capable of mitigating their impacts. 

Roy said the southwestern part of Bangladesh represents the most biologically diversified area. It is the home to 36 percent of the country’s population, and more than half of them are women. Many organizations claim that women’s productivity has increased over time and yet concerning labour pricing, there is a massive difference between men and women. He mentioned that even a more significant part ofGreen Climate Fund, government intend to spend on the productivity enhancement of southern women, but it is still in a complicated situation to understand. Hence, it is crucially significant to integrate women in policy measures to take proper actions accordingly.

Roy further said that until we can raise the voice of women, it will be hard to grasp our goals of climate change adaptation. “Our women have been dealing with natural shocks for a long time but from a  perspective of recovery,” he said. 

On the other hand, at international level, gender mainstreaming is often explicitly invisible among various climate change agreements. In Paris Agreement, gender specifics were mentioned in only three sections (preamble, Article 7 on adaptation and Article 11 on capacity building), whereas there is no recognition in several significant areas such as mitigation and finance and technology. 

Edith Ofwona, Senior Programme Specialist of Canada's International Development Research Centre (IDRC) said that both finance and technology are essential to enable adaptation and mitigation. It is important to ensure that both women’s and men’s voices are heard equally in deciding allocations and priorities. 

The session, nonetheless, brought up several recommendations to gender mainstreaming in policies and implementing strategies at the national and global scale. It is crucial to integrate gender transformative approach to climate change adaptation policies and practices. 

Dr Tanjeela recommended that governments need to initiate the periodical review of the BCCSAP–2009 which will provide a clear picture of the climate change adaptation situation in Bangladesh and will help to identify the gaps and challenges. Papia Sultana, Assistant Director, Department of Environment also suggested that capacity building activities on gender and climate change should be enhanced at the national to local level and gender disaggregated data should be monitored in the implementation of Gender Action Plan. 

So there is still the need to develop a proactive force. However, local government has a major role to play as well in reaching rural, marginalized people to provide them with climate service related facilities. It’s also important to include men in the process otherwise it will be gender blind development. 

Among countless negotiations and agreements, we should develop our strategies in a way where women will be our resilient soldiers, and at the same time, gender justice can be implemented. 

Farah Anzum is an undergraduate student of Environmental Management and Economics from North South University. She has been involved in many development organizations and worked as Research Assistant.

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