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FEATURE: Indian climate plans to bring gender perspectives

Aditi Kapoor of Alternative Futures presents her organisation’s work to make Indian States’ climate plans more sensitive to gender issues – with CDKN support.

Are women really invisible? Or does the government not know that both women and men are climate survivors and climate warriors, but each in a different way?

Whatever the case, when I read the first drafts of India’s State-level climate action plans, two things hit me. One, the complete absence of women from all discussions, as if they do not exist in climate-sensitive sectors. Two, the yawning gap between policy and practice, as if policies have no role to play in helping our poor rural women workers adapt. Over 87% of them are farmers and agricultural labourers, tilling small pieces of land and almost completely dependent on rainfed agriculture, often in regions that repeatedly witness floods, droughts or cyclones.

Many senior climate scientists still argue that climate change affects us all equally and is, therefore, ‘gender neutral.’ Yet, the authoritative fourth assessment report of the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change had, in Chapter 17, clearly stated that men and women have different adaptive capacities and vulnerabilities to climate change. Indeed, my own pilot study on this had shown that climate change is set to deepen the gender divide among poor farmers because women are already at a disadvantage when it comes to owning assets, accessing services or new knowledge. On the other hand, several grassroots interventions show that women are the first to adopt new farming practices to help their families adapt to climate vagaries. They why were women missing from almost all of the State-level Action Plans on Climate Change (SAPCCs)?

We at Alternative Futures, with help from CDKN, decided to dig deeper. We also decided to influence at least some of the State governments to incorporate gender components into their climate action plans. And we have been quite successful. We’ve not only done the needful in three State-level plans, but also put gender on the table for the federal environment ministry, in-charge of approving all State-level plans. The three state governments we engaged with were very pro-active and took the onus on themselves to incorporate our recommendations. The minutes of the federal government’s approval committee now state that all State-level climate action plans must incorporate gender concerns when they come for approval. This was the first step. We’ve now been asked to help take the second step, by engaging in a process to help incorporate gender concerns at the implementation stage of the State-level action plans.

Much of our learning, shared through policy roundtables and policy briefs, has come from digging deep. As part of our secondary research, we applied the gender lens to adaptation programmes and schemes as well as public resourcing in four States. We followed the adaptation categories given in India’s national climate action blueprint, the National Action Plan on Climate Change. In our field research, we compared conventional, high-input farmers with those who followed more climate-resilient practices in regions prone to floods, droughts and cyclones. This helped us see which farming practices dealt with climate vagaries better and whether adaptive farming is ‘gender-neutral.’

Our results are interesting. We find that that the government continues to invest in developmental programmes, not in adaptive interventions. Again, agriculture-related programmes invest in women as workers, not as owners, knowledge managers or service providers, even in sectors like livestock rearing where women dominate. Most adaptive farming practices too put more work and time burden on women than on men and do not really help women garner productive resources that will help them adapt to climate vagaries.

We hope that our newly-created website will continue to help address the forgotten common spaces where gender, climate change adaptation and governance converge.



Read more about the CDKN project: Gender and State Climate Change Action Plans in India.

We occasionally invite bloggers from around the world to provide their experiences and views. The views expressed here are those of the author, and not necessarily those of CDKN. 

Image courtesy World Bank.

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