Women make up the majority of the world’s poor and are more reliant on natural resources
By Dr Vanishree Joseph, Dr N V Madhuri
The historical socialist working women’s movement in the 20th Century paved the way for the celebration of Women’s Day across the globe on March 8. The primary objective of International Women’s Day is to celebrate women’s achievements, raise awareness about women’s equality and also to lobby for accelerated gender parity. Several campaigns and rallies are conducted to ascertain women’s right to participate in the public sphere as well as to protect their rights in private life.
Women’s right to vote, facilitating child care, access to property, control over one’s body and life are established or still under the process of attainment through various feminist movements in the world. The history of women’s movement in India can be aligned with the social reform movement even before Independence. After that, women’s participation in the nationalist movement, their commitment to the protection of the environment and collective action through Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) manifested the strength of women’s force in spite of the bias they face in society.
Women encounter numerous challenges in their life right from birth mainly because of bias and discriminatory practices. The World Economic Forum has said that none of us will see gender parity in our lifetimes, and nor likely will many of our children. The present Covid situation reveals that the pandemic could wipe out 25 years of increasing gender equality. Until the progress on gender equality paces up in a sustainable manner, we cannot ensure that women’s rights are protected. So, for this year, the United Nations chose the theme for the International Women’s Day celebration as ‘Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow’ and the campaign is on ‘Break the Bias’.
This year’s International Women’s Day highlighted the contributions of women and girls around the world who are leading the charge on climate change adaptation, mitigation, and response in order to create a more sustainable future for everyone. One of the most important issues of the 21st century is advancing gender equality in the context of climate catastrophe and disaster risk reduction.
Climate change and sustainability challenges have had, and will continue to have, significant and long-term consequences for our environment, economy, and social development. Those who are the most disadvantaged and marginalised bear the brunt of the consequences. Women are increasingly being recognised as more vulnerable to the effects of climate change than men because women make up the majority of the world”s poor and are more reliant on the natural resources that are at a greater risk of climate change impact.
The bias towards women and girls should be stopped to accelerate the process of gender equality in a sustainable manner. This bias will overlook the challenges faced by women. The systematic bias within the household on food consumption, access to healthcare, education and other basic needs places women and girls at a disadvantage.
In addition, depleting natural resources and privatising common property resources will further push women into poverty. The change in the use of resources will affect the subsistence economy. Labour-intensive sectors such as agriculture, fishing, livestock rearing, artisan and craft are part of the subsistence economy and women play a major role here. Hence, they will fall into the clutches of poverty and poverty will persist. Placing women and girls at the centre of these economies will fundamentally improve and sustain development outcomes for everyone.
Even though women and girls are considered vulnerable, they are also effective and influential leaders. They act as change-makers when it comes to climate adaptation and mitigation. They participate in and lead sustainability programmes across the world, resulting in more effective climate action. For sustainable development and greater gender equality, factors that limit women”s empowerment should be identified and detached.
The problems faced by women are rarely discussed in the context of climate change. Women’s ability to respond to the threat posed by climate change has not been accounted so far. As a result, the discourse on climate change and policy options always misses women’s voices. If women and girls continue to raise their voices and be equal actors in decision-making connected to climate change and sustainability, a sustainable future will be in the making.
The resolution adopted in the 4th session of the UN Environment Assembly, in Nairobi in March 2019, acknowledged the disproportionate burden of climate change on women and emphasised the need to encourage their participation and leadership in environmental decision-making and to ensure meaningful participation in global processes. If this is taken in spirit and followed, India can break the bias and will contribute to gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow.
“Imagine a gender equal world. A world free of bias, stereotypes and discrimination. A world that is diverse, equitable and inclusive. #BreakTheBias.”
(Dr Vanishree Joseph is Assistant Professor and Dr N V Madhuri is Head, Centre for Gender Studies and Development, National Institute of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj, Hyderabad)