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Women and girls are more likely to be put in harm’s way when extreme weather events in developing countries like India displace millions of people every year

Women and girls queue up for drinking water in Satkhira, Bangladesh, after Cyclone Amphan destroyed available sources (Photo by Inzamamul Haque)

Displacement due to climate change is increasing worldwide, widening global inequities and disproportionately harming women and girls, a global aid group said in a recent report.

Women bear the brunt of the impacts of climate change. “Prevailing gender inequality often intersects with other forms of vulnerabilities which limit women and girls’ access to resources and decision-making power, inhibiting their ability to withstand the impacts of climate change, access basic services and recover from climate-related disasters,” according to Evicted by Climate Change: Confronting the Gendered Impacts of Climate-Induced Displacement,  a report by humanitarian non-profit CARE International.

The vast majority of those forced from their homes as a result of climate change live in developing countries like India. Responsible for less than 4% of climate change-causing greenhouse gases, these countries lack resources to support alternative forms of climate adaptation, such as drought-resistant seed varieties, floodwater management and early warning systems.

Developed countries are collectively failing to live up to their promise to deliver 100 billion USD in new and additional climate finance, the report said, adding that as many as 33.4 million people were displaced from their homes in 2019, and climate change played a role in 70% of these cases.

“Climate change induced displacement is a harsh reality for millions of people today,” said Sven Harmeling of CARE. “With global CO2 (carbon dioxide) emissions levels on a trajectory of a 3 degrees Celsius temperature increase or more, the situation may irrevocably escalate and evict hundreds of millions more from their homes.”

Women more vulnerable

There are a number of reasons for the increased vulnerability of women to the impacts of climate change. Since women are the primary caretakers of households and look after children and the elderly, they are often not able to leave vulnerable areas as easily as men. Poor women are 14 times as likely to die from a climate disaster than men, according to the report.

Women are largely left out of decision-making processes in which strategies for coping with climate change are acted upon. If they were given greater control over these processes, women would be able to lobby for essential resources, the report said.

“CARE’s experience tells us that when women lead in crises, entire communities benefit, and more effective and sustainable solutions are found. Perversely, however, they are rarely given a seat at the decision-making table,” said Sofia Sprechmann Sineiro, secretary general of CARE International. “This report shows us that climate change exacerbates existing gender inequalities, with women displaced on the frontlines of its impacts, bearing the heaviest consequences.”

In most countries, government funds for climate change mitigation and adaptation do not adequately give priority to women, the report said. At least 85% of the funding for climate adaptation projects should have gender equality as an objective by 2023, CARE demanded.

Glimmers of hope

In India, CARE works with women and girls among indigenous communities to boost their capacities, capabilities and confidence to adapt to climate change. It has done so through promoting sustainable agricultural practices and rainwater harvesting; supporting their inclusive and effective collectives to facilitate access to opportunities, entitlements, resources, services and markets; and improving governance and resources management.

In Jashpur district of Chhattisgarh and Buldhana district of Maharashtra, CARE works with over 4,500 marginalised indigenous women from 50 villages. These women are dependent on rainfed agriculture, particularly for paddy, and face many challenges due to climate change, including water stress, erratic rainfall, deterioration of soil quality and fertility and declining agro-biodiversity.

With changing weather patterns and very low expertise on how to adapt to these changes, the productivity of their paddy fields is worsening. The women need to migrate every year with their families to find work and food because their paddy fields are not producing enough.

After six years of programme implementation, from 2014 to 2019, women are now better able to plan their farming activities because they are engaged in participatory scenario planning. CARE says there has been an increase in income from agriculture production (33%), a decrease in food insecurity (only a fourth of the households are now food insecure), and a decrease in the number of days of seasonal migration (almost down to a third, from 31 days to 12 days per year).

“Women are key to building resilience. It is essential that more climate finance is directed to support women’s organisations who are already doing this work in their communities,” Sineiro said. “We cannot face the climate crisis if we continue to leave them behind.”

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