Making climate actions gender responsiveGender differentiated aspects are seldom incorporated in climate policies
While our institutions and experts still seem preoccupied with proving that climate change has started to have impacts on the economy of people and the state of our resources, a significant part of climate discourse at the global level—and by extension, the goals set by Agenda 2030 and the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs)—has moved to a level which focuses primarily on integrating climate into national systems, financing, and more importantly, making climate interventions more inclusive and gender responsive. Though Nepal has taken impressive initial steps in mainstreaming climate change in its national plans and in addressing the impacts through national systems, it will be a long journey before climate is effectively integrated in the overall national development plans in the changed context of a federal system, where each provincial and local government is independent to formulate its own development plans.
On the gender front, Nepal can take pride in what it has achieved in enhancing women’s participation in development and governance. Women in Nepal have helmed the judiciary and legislature. The country also boasts a female president, who has been in office since 2015. The constitution requires at least 33 percent of parliamentarians to be women. Many organisations and public institutions are headed by women and demand similar representation.
Regarding development, the government of Nepal has placed high emphasis on integrating Gender Equity and Social Inclusion (GESI) in development works. Seven sector ministries have GESI policies and guidelines, including dedicated units with trained staff within the ministry and system to monitor results. GESI strategies and guidelines recognise the need to identify barriers faced by women, the poor, the vulnerable, and other excluded groups. However, despite such commendable achievements and institutional setups, are we in a position to say we are anywhere near fully integrating gender in development instead of making gender a topic of development? Regrettably, most of the progress witnessed seems to be figurative. Instead, women’s participation in decisions regarding the kind of development that would ease their lives, how resources should be distributed, allocating funds to plans that would begin to reduce their drudgery, and increasing women’s economic independence are far more crucial and, therefore, should hold precedence.
It is difficult to determine when gender issues are effectively addressed. Is it when there is a dedicated project on gender? Or would a dedicated budget be more constructive to gender? Our overall development plans still lack the space to address gender issues. For example, making climate intervention gender responsive is not simply considering excluded and disadvantaged groups while planning, as has been the case so far. As long as development plans continue to be gender neutral or even gender blind, the issues surrounding gender are left unattended. The need is to move beyond symbolic gestures and make our actions gender responsive. In simple words, both men and women should be involved in the decision-making process.
Gender is not peripheral
Gender is not peripheral, rather it is the core of society that governs the process of decision-making with regard to work, production, distribution and benefits. Therefore, under the given state of gender inequalities among citizens and the way citizens are approached by climate planners while implementing climate projects, it is difficult to envisage how citizens struggling with gender inequalities can equitably benefit from climate projects narrowly focused on climate objectives. Thus far, we’ve had a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to climate actions, and over the years, it has become clearer that, not only is this approach too limiting, it could further burden women.
A pronounced example of gender-blind climate intervention can be cited from one of the most popular and successful climate project—the biogas plants. Biogas has been a preferred policy option to encourage alternate sources of energy to reduce carbon emissions as well as reduce deforestation. However, its introduction in places where farmers had already given up rearing animals—they had no workforce to collect fodder, a task traditionally done by women—forced them to begin keeping animals again. Operating a biogas plant requires water and churning dung every day. Again, this work is largely left to women. Promotion of biogas, which has many other benefits and was successful in reducing indoor pollution, presented an altered reality for women.
A lack of workforce, particularly agriculture labour, has already added to the burden of maintaining farms in the villages on women, in addition to their household chores. Thus, evaluating the impact of a conventional biogas plant, introduced as part of climate project in a place where farmers have give up rearing animals, from a gender perspective, would provide a fundamentally different picture. A woman in Rolpa, who had been helped by a climate project through a biogas plant, expressed her worry for the added work, “Haamile ghas kaa dukhale gaaibhaisi paalna chhadeka thieu, sir harule gobar gas lyaera feri gobar maa haat halnu paryo. Ghas katne manche chaina, tara nagari bhaena.” (This roughly translates to “As collecting fodder became difficult, we had given up keeping cattle but after you brought biogas, we’re now forced to get our hands back in dung again. There’s no one to collect fodder so now we’re forced to do that somehow.”) This complexity is why it is vital to make development projects gender sensitive.
Gender responsive climate actions
Unintended negative consequences can arise with policies and strategies, which, although well intended, base their actions on stereotypes or a poor understanding of gender inequalities amongst citizens. Gender differentiated aspects are seldom incorporated in climate policies nor does the policy differentiate between different needs, opportunities, and impacts of climate change on men and women. The victims of the Bara disaster, for instance, were largely women and children; among the 28 dead, at least 11 were women and 6 were children. Policies need to ensure that these inequalities are addressed in reducing climate vulnerability.
An effort to this effect has been made by the government of Nepal. To address climate impacts on agriculture—one of the most vulnerable economic sectors—and its adverse consequences on farmers with gender disparity, the government has developed an innovative approach to integrate climate in the regular agriculture programmes and make them gender responsive. This approach will probably set a precedent in integrating gender or making climate actions gender responsive across all development sectors and at all levels of governments. The new approach primarily looks at how each investment made in climate actions addresses gender commitments and how that can be quantified and measured. This altered approach will show what is budgeted and where that budget is applied in supporting policies and national commitments such as the Agenda 2030 and the Nationally Determined Contributions. Such improved measuring method will hopefully help evaluate every bit of investment in reducing climate vulnerability of gender-based beneficiaries as well as contribute to meeting national commitments of climate mitigation.
Upadhya tweets at @madhukaru