Climatologists have warned that women in South Asia are particularly vulnerable to climate change. As already-scarce water in the Rajasthan desert becomes more elusive due to climate change, a project is training women on how to manage water better

Centre for Social Research has been training rural women leaders (sarpanch) and potential leaders in the desert state of Rajasthan since 2012 to take a lead in water management and conservation. (Image by Centre for Social Research)

Centre for Social Research has been training rural women leaders (sarpanch) and potential leaders in the desert state of Rajasthan since 2012 to take a lead in water management and conservation. (Image by Centre for Social Research)

There is mounting evidence that climate change is leading to increased hardship for poor women, especially in rural areas of the developing world where they are the sole providers of daily essentials like food and water. Skewed weather patterns are significantly impacting fresh water sources, and consequently diminishing the availability of water for domestic and productive tasks. Across vast swathes of India, women and girls are increasingly spending more time trudging miles daily to haul water from distant sources.

In an article Rural women, facing the burden of climate change”, weAdapt, an online climate adaptation forum, highlights how due to the onslaught of aggravated environmental changes, women will be spending even longer hours juggling key life-sustaining roles every day — gathering wood to keep the kitchen fires burning, sourcing fodder to feed livestock, collecting drinking water for their families, working the land and grinding cereal crops.

Women in South Asia, say climatologists, will be particularly vulnerable to climate change leading to heightened food and economic insecurity. The solution, they add, lies in a gender-specific approach that factors in women’s challenges into the implementation of mitigation and adaptation programs.

Recognizing this, and to improve women’s active participation in governance structures and their management of natural resources due to climate change, New Delhi-based non-profit organization Centre for Social Research (CSR) has been training rural women leaders (sarpanch) and potential leaders in the desert state of Rajasthan since 2012. To empower these women to take the lead in water management and conservation within their communities, CSR has developed a programme in partnership with Hanns Seidel Foundation to engender green governance in this arid region.

A pilot training programme of over 40 elected and to-be elected representatives in Rampura, Unti and Thikarya regions of Sanganer district, and Kyariya, Murthala and Mawal regions of Sirohi district, coached the participants about optimisation of water resources. The programme enhanced knowledge about water conservation, the availability of government schemes, grassroots initiatives to address water concerns and the women’s own capacity to drive change within their communities.

“A rural woman spends more than half her life addressing water concerns in her family,” says Ranjana Kumari, Director, CSR. “It is therefore imperative to train and enhance their knowledge so that they understand climatic issues and address the needs of their communities more effectively. This will also facilitate better management of social, economic and political development processes for improved livelihoods and healthy communities.”

According to Kumari, CSR’s multi-pronged training helps enhance women representatives’ understanding of the connection between water issues and gender inequality; the tools and schemes for water conservation and management like roof-top water harvesting, and how the leaders can augment their own capacity to lead water conservation initiatives at the village level.

The programme has successfully completed two phases and will be wrapped up this year-end before panchayat elections are held in the region in January 2015. While phase one involved the assessment of the needs of the target villages, the second phase saw a draft training module being developed for the representatives on water conservation and management.

Learning, add programme volunteers, is made fun and interactive through plays, quizzes, board games and other activities. Occasionally, theatre or native folk music groups are also roped in to drive home a message.

“Discussions normally revolve around how many water resources are available for the colonies or sets of houses and how we can optimise that. Another major point raised during discussions is how to plug loopholes that cause water scarcity,” explains Ritika Bhatia, Project Coordinator, Hanns Seidel Foundation.

By year-end, adds Bhatia, the basic training will be over. “Based on the feedback from the pilot training, we will assess the effectiveness of the workshops, and modify our approach for future sessions.”

Sharmi Bai, Sarpanch of Nichlagadh, told indiaclimatedialogue.net, “The training built my knowledge of water issues, understanding of available government schemes and initiatives to address water concerns. It also helped me bring about a major shift in the mindset of the villagers when I explained to them how climate change will be making water a very scarce resource in future. I was able to use my powers as an elected representative to address many water issues within our community.”

Saroj Kumari, sarpanch of Maval, told indiaclimatedialogue.net that she had to struggle for years to get a dam built for the villages of her panchayat. “It took me three years to get the proposal for the construction of the dam passed. Even after construction started, work was repeatedly interrupted by government officials. However, through the persistence of the villagers, we managed to get the dam built which is now providing water to all our villages.”

With her enhanced understanding on water conservation and climate change, Kumari has now pledged to train the villagers on how to manage water better so that this vital resource, she says, can “continue to sustain us and make our lives more beautiful”.

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