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Women are more vulnerable to climate change effects than men, but India’s National Action Plan on Climate Change had not taken that it into account. An effort is now being made to correct it

While the National Action Plan on Climate Change identifies poor women as the worst affected group, it fails to address the gender dimensions in its eight missions, four of which relate to agriculture-related adaptation. (Image by Ray Witlin/ World Bank)

While the National Action Plan on Climate Change identifies poor women as the worst affected group, it fails to address the gender dimensions in its eight missions, four of which relate to agriculture-related adaptation. (Image by Ray Witlin/ World Bank)

State governments in India have been “very positive” about incorporating the gender dimension in their climate change action plans. “Policymakers and bureaucrats have realised that this was missing and needed technical help,” says Aditi Kapoor of the Delhi-based think tank Alternative Futures.

Three states – Madhya Pradesh (MP), Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh (UP) – stand out. “This important aspect had been missed, despite the feminisation of farm labour,” Kapoor said. Uttarakhand and UP are also trying to make gender budgets a reality. “Once you allocate money for this purpose, you get things done,” added Kapoor, who calls the think tank an “evidence-based policy advocacy research” group.

“We have drafted gender into our state action plan since we started a consultative process in 2010,” Lokendra Thakur, Coordinator, State Knowledge Management Centre on Climate Change, Bhopal, told

“MP has 11 agro-climatic zones which need to be addressed differently. We have tried to assess the vulnerability to climate of the 51 districts in the state, and combined social and ecological indices. MP has been awakened to climate change early and we know our basic requirements.”

At the same time, there was no institutional home for climate change in the administration and the challenge was to bring all departments on board, since agriculture straddles many sectors. Given MP’s high agricultural growth – 24% a year against a national average of 4% – the concern that this may reduce in 20 years with climate change was a big catalyst for action.

“We are handicapped by the lack of data, which is scattered across different departments. We also need more robust climate change scientific scenarios, for which we have sourced modelling from the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology in Pune,” Thakur added.

According to Jai Raj, Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, Uttarakhand, a major problem is that land titles are in the name of the male head of a household, although women perform most farming tasks. “We have highlighted these issues and tried to mainstream gender in our adaptation policies,” he told

For instance the forest department’s plant nurseries are run by women and the state’s women and child welfare department screens programmes for climate change adaptation and related issues to plug any loopholes from a gender lens.

Raj also cited how bank timings are unsuited to female farmers since they open from 9 am to 5 pm when the women are were busy in the fields. Banks could, at least on certain days, stay open later to accommodate women.

While the National Action Plan on Climate Change identifies poor women as the worst affected group, it fails to address the gender dimensions in its eight missions, four of which relate to agriculture-related adaptation. The approach was “techno-managerial in their orientation and gender-blind”, according to Alternative Futures. The draft state plans also lack gender analysis and scientific documentation of local adaptation practices.

After initial discussions, the central government was keen to make the “engendering of climate” a workable reality. An expert committee to review state action plans on climate change has required all states to introduce this dimension. It has already found reference in Bihar’s plan.

Using a gender lens, Alternative Futures has looked at the action plans of four states – West Bengal is the last. It covered three vulnerable agro-climatic zones – the flood-prone area in Gorakhpur, eastern Uttar Pradesh; the drought-prone region of Anantapur, Andhra Pradesh and the saline, cyclone-prone Sundarbans in West Bengal. The Anantapur learnings also informed the drought-prone Bundelkhand region of Madhya Pradesh. Anecdotal evidence of change, like the increase in pests, was backed up by scientific corroboration.

The research found that in village Madirepalli, in Anantapur district, women reported how hotter summers were arriving earlier than before. To beat the heat, they now left home for the fields an hour earlier, at 7 am, and returned by 1 pm as they could not work in the scorching afternoon heat. This was true for women in Uttar Pradesh and even in Himachal Pradesh. “Scarcity of rainfall is leading to decreasing soil moisture and an increase in insects and weeds. Weeding is my job, not my husband’s. So now I have to be ready with my khurpi (traditional weeding instrument) all the time,” said Manju of Sadheykhurd village, Sant Kabir Nagar district, eastern Uttar Pradesh.

On the other hand, in Gorakhpur in the same state, women cited how not a single arhar (lentil) plant was left standing because of heavier water-logging in the monsoon. According to Kamlavati of Janakpur village, “The arhar plant is particularly useful because it gives me my cooking fuel and fodder. I can make brooms and sell them. I can also use it to weave baskets and cover the roof of my house.” Now there have been joint meetings between male and female farmers in this district to examine what measures to take in the event of climate vagaries.

The Indian Council of Agriculture Research’s Central Research Institute for Dryland Agriculture (CRIDA), Hyderabad, has initiated some measures to reduce the impact of climate factors on women. These include reducing drudgery by replacing labour with simple machines, crop diversification, fodder cultivation and seed procurement.

The research by Alternative Futures also focused on how women could adapt to climate variability. As Gomlibai from Malkaipait Tanda village in Ranga Reddy district, Andhra Pradesh, reported, “We talked amongst ourselves in our self-help group meetings on the importance of water sharing in our arid village. Digging more borewells would mean losing the lowered groundwater table. It took some time to convince our men but now we have signed an agreement amongst ourselves and with the Mandal officer to stop digging new borewells and to share the water from existing ones. I have enough water now and even grow vegetables.”

According to Alternative Futures, India’s adaptation missions must centre around four Cs:

  • Counting women in planning and executing all schemes
  • Converging programmes through District Rural Development Agencies and Panchayati Raj Institutions
  • Capacity development and empowerment of women at the grassroots level and
  • Collaborating with key stakeholders – adaptation scientists, government line agencies and departments, user groups and civil society groups – to build resilience among the most vulnerable sections, using traditional knowledge as well as scientific innovations

A 1995 study on women in agriculture by the National Commission for Women revealed that they handle about 60% of farm operations like sowing of seeds, transportation of saplings, winnowing, storage of grain and also help men perform the other tasks. Women also spend up to the same proportion of their time in agriculture-related activities, according to a UN Food & Agriculture Organisation working paper in 2011.

India’s Mahila Kisan Sashaktikaran Pariyojana (women farmers’ empowerment programme), under the National Rural Livelihood Mission, acknowledges that the climate-sensitive agriculture sector employs 80% of all economically active women. It says “almost all women in rural India can be considered as ‘farmers’ in some sense, working as agricultural labourers, unpaid workers in the family farm enterprises or combination of the two.”

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