Despite all the adversarial policy context, and battered by climate change, women at the grassroots level have been continuing to work in climate adaptation in order to adapt with the fast-changing climatic realities to survive.
“I can do the work of 10 men alone, people say I have no fear. During cyclone Bulbul, I was the only woman volunteer with the all men CPP volunteer group in the middle of the disaster working; I even carried disabled children on my shoulder to cyclone shelter,” said Masura Parvin, Unit Leader of Cyclone Preparedness Program (CPP) in Satkhira at a webinar titled, ‘Untold Tales of Women Champions of Climate Change’ jointly organized by UN Women and International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) at the annual Gobeshona Global Conference on January 23. Masura represents innumerable women working at the grass roots level in Bangladesh braving the adversities of nature worsened by climate change, as an everyday battle.
Unfortunately, in the climate change arena, women’s leadership has been downplayed for a long time. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the climate change treaty, signed by 197 states and nations came into force on March 21, 1994. It took UNFCCC 20 years to come up with the Lima Work Program on Gender (LWPG) in 2014 to advance gender balance and integrate gender considerations into climate change policies and actions.
Finally at COP 25, Parties agreed a five-year Enhanced Lima work programme on gender, and its Gender Action Plan. Also, in terms of participation in UNFCCC processes women’s participation has not been very encouraging. UNFCCC has been publishing gender composition reports annually since 2013 to support Parties to track progress on gender balance to promote a gender-sensitive climate policy.
The 2019 report showed that 5 out of 15 constituted bodies of UNFCCC had female representation exceeding 38%, while in 2018 it was 8 out of 13 constituted bodies reaching that threshold. In 2020 the ratio came down further to 35%. Thus, instead of progression there has been a regression in female representation on constituted bodies that formulate climate change policies in UNFCCC.
The hardest hit group, ie women and girls have been marginalized in climate change policies, strategies and actions. According to an ASEAN Gender Outlook, women depend largely on natural resources which are highly affected by climate change.
Women in South East Asia are engaged in agriculture: 64% in Lao PDR, 39% in Viet Nam and 34% in Cambodia; others simply rely on natural resources when they cannot access assets; however, over 85% of agricultural land holders are men; Land degradation has prompted urban migration on the part of men and a feminization of agriculture; 28% of women live in households that primarily use wood as cooking fuel.
Climate change, including aridity and flooding, is intensifying women’s vulnerability, and increasing their water and firewood collection times. The scenario is no different in the South Asian region, and in Bangladesh we see the unfolding of the crisis very vividly. In the South West coast women and girls spend on average more than an hour each day for water collection; according to a 2016 FAO report more than 50% of agri-labour are women; most of the women in rural households especially in rural areas depend on fuel-wood. All these aspects, drinking water, wood-fuel, nature-based agriculture where women's engagement is the highest, are hugely affected by climate change.
Despite all the adversarial policy context, and battered by climate change, women at the grassroots level have been continuing to work in climate adaptation in order to adapt with the fast-changing climatic realities to survive. In the process women have been achieving wonderful feats in climate change adaptation.
Many organizations including government, national and international non-government organizations, private sectors, and the United Nations are implementing different programs and initiatives to reduce the inequalities as well as to ensure gender equality through a transformative feminist approach both at local and national level to benefit women from climate actions. Considering the concept “Leaving No One Behind”, UN Women is working with the most marginalized groups of women from the most climate vulnerable districts in Bangladesh to achieve an inclusive and sustainable development that creates a synergy between the Sustainable Development Goal 5: Gender Equality and Goal 13: Climate Actions.
Accordingly, UN Women has been developing leadership capacity of grassroots women’s organizations and the women leaders by enhancing their knowledge base about the developments in the climate change field as well as promoting their local knowledge and skills. UN Women believes that it’s crucial to put women in the driving seat of adaptation to climate change for which enabling policies and strategies are critical.
There are so many stories of courage, strength, sacrifice, and dedication of innumerable women, that have made differences to the lives of so many women and their communities to survive disaster and climatic shocks. They include: Lipika Rani Boiragi, from Association for Social Development and Distressed Welfare at Dacope, Khulna; Jannatul Mawa, of BINDU Nari Unnayan Shongothon, from Kaligonj Upazila of Satkhira; Afroza Begum Alpona, the Vice Chairman of Union Parishad and member of Disaster Management Committee from Kurigram; Masura Parvin, the Unit Leader of Cyclone Preparedness Program (CPP) volunteers from Poddopukur of Satkhira.
Organized jointly by UN Women and ICCCAD at the Gobeshona conference this year, the session titled, ‘Untold tales of Women Champions in Climate Change’ celebrated the stories of real-life climate champions. A total of six stories of grassroots women, one national level and two international level climate leaders shared their stories. The objective of the event was to bring the women climate champions in one platform to share their experience, and learn from their challenges, to fight against the climate change crisis, and disasters from local, national, and global levels.
The webinar was chaired by Saima Wazed, Founder of Shuchana Foundation and Thematic Ambassador of Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF). She congratulated the women climate champions for their inspiring and brilliant work to bring about positive change in their society despite having so many challenges. She said, “It is necessary to inspire our young girls, provide them opportunities to learn from real life experiences, its tools and techniques, as the fire is there, they just need something to push them forward to go beyond their own fears, social barriers which will give them more strength to succeed.”
Lipika Rani Boiragi from Association for Social Development and Distressed Welfare (ASDDW), Dacope, Khulna has been working for the women and girls of Dacope for more than 20 years. She has introduced two pilot projects with her own little fund and small private donation: (1) Mobile stove (eco-friendly stove), which she distributed amongst her community women to popularise, (2) rain water harvesting in the ground-well for use in dry season for irrigation. Without any scientific knowledge, or related education, and necessary funding, she went on and undertook such locally led adaptation initiative for her community.
Afroza Begum Alpona, the vice chairman of Union Parishad and a member of Disaster Management Committee, Kurigram Sadar was also a Municipal Commissioner and Panel Mayor in her locality. She has had an indomitable passion since her childhood to engage in voluntary community work; thus she received training from Red Crescent, Fire Service and Civil Defense. Now she looks after nine unions which consist of eighty-one wards. She is now a role model for her family and community.
The youth CSO leader from BINDU Nari Unnayan Shongothon (Satkhira) Jannatul Mawa said, “I wanted to create a space only for women, where women would have a space for leadership, and they would play a crucial role as a decision maker. We have to work hard to create everything the way we want to, nothing is ready for us at the initial stage. One thing to keep in mind is, I am not a woman, I am a human being. If everyone else in society can do it, so can I”.
All the speakers at the event emphasised the importance of bringing a paradigm shift into the narratives portraying women leaders as mere victims, instead highlighting the strength and achievements of women in combating climate change. Women and girls who suffer the most from climatic impacts and yet who adapt with those impacts on the daily basis and those women who show the way with their leadership need to be acknowledged. We need to learn from and celebrate all the women climate leaders and activists and take pride in them to go forward in our journey towards a world where climate change policies and actions are gender responsive that benefit women and men and gender diverse people equally.
Dilruba Haider is working in UN Women as Programme Specialist, DRR, Climate Change and Humanitarian Actions, her expertise is in Climate Change and Gender Equality. Can be reached at [email protected]
Priodarshine Auvi is working in UN Women as Programme Analyst, in Climate Change and Gender Equality. Can be reached at [email protected]