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FEATURE: Gender and climate change – India Pavilion at COP21 highlights work to be done

Aditi Kapoor, Director of Alternative Futures, was a standard-bearer for gender-sensitive approaches to climate action at COP21 in Paris. Here, she reviews discussions on gender and climate change that took place at the conference’s India Pavilion.  Alternative Futures has been working in partnership with CDKN on gender and climate change in India.

Gender and climate change are often seen as two disconnected areas. Even when the connections are recognised, gender remains on the margins of climate change solutions. World leaders at the recently concluded global climate talks at the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) in Paris in December 2015 have reflected on this ‘otherness’ attitude in their (continuing) reluctance to incorporate gender concerns and women’s equality in the draft text. At the India Pavilion, however, the situation was quite different; a side event on ‘Women, Gender Equality and Climate Change’ got its fair share of space on 8 December, 2015, with India’s Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar inaugurating the event.

The minister acknowledged the critical role that women play in sustainable development, and the diverse panel echoed his concerns: how gender concerns ran across climate issues – extreme events, energy, water and food security, health and decision-making. Mr. Javadekar shared his hope that the post-2020 UN agreement for dealing with climate change would incorporate gender concerns. The panel itself came from different countries – Turkey, Pakistan and of course, India – but their concerns were similar. Significantly, unlike most gender-focused meetings, the panel was a good balance of men and women, each sharing different dimensions of how women were part of climate solutions in their area of work.

While Ms. Safak Muderrisgil from the Energy Efficiency Association in Turkey showed how making women part of the energy efficiency initiatives had led to huge reduction in the family expenditure on energy, Ms. Karuna Singh of Earth Day Network shared how elected village women in Panchayats – India’s self-governance bodies – lived with climate uncertainties and could well understand the impacts and their role in dealing with the impacts. Mr. Lokendra Thakkar, the nodal officer for the climate plan for the State of Madhya Pradesh, shared how the plan made space for women to be part of decision-making on adaptation. Dr. Shiraz Wajih of Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group, which especially worked with women farmers in the flood plains of Uttar Pradesh, said women needed to own their land to be able to quickly adapt to seasonal uncertainties and to access government aid. Mr. Ali Tauqeer Sheikh, Asia Director of Climate and Development Knowledge Network, appreciated the openness of the Indian government on gender and climate solutions.

My own work on gender and climate change, reflected in the multi-media presentation shown at the panel discussion, showed how men migrate but women stay back in villages to eke out a living and care for the elderly and the young when climate vagaries lead to food and water shortages. Worse, adaptive agriculture is more laborious and time-consuming with the burden falling on women.

Obviously, women need labour-saving technology, finance and capacities and presence on decision-making tables. India’s climate plans are good starting points. Here’s hoping more public discourse on gender and climate change will put women at the centre of climate change and close the gap between these seemingly unrelated worlds.

If you are interested in this article, why not view the CDKN-commissioned film ‘Missing: the forgotten women in India’s climate plans.’

Image Courtesy: Abbas Mushtaq, CDKN

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