Research & Analysis

India and a Gendered Understanding of Climate Change

Summary report of the discussion held on 9 October 2019 at IPCS

On 9 October 2019, IPCS hosted Dr Mini Govindan, Fellow, The Energy Resources Institute (TERI), and Aditi Kapoor, Director of Alternative Futures, for a discussion on India and a Gendered Understanding of Climate Change. The discussion was moderated by Garima Maheswari, Research Fellow, IPCS, and PhD Scholar at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). This is a summary report of the proceedings.

·         In India’s context, women, particularly those belonging to the rural areas are largely dependent on resources which have a direct bearing on the worsening or easing of climate-induced stress.

·         In practice, women in India, particularly in those in rural areas, tend to have to deliver on a dual responsibility of livelihood generation and traditional domestic roles.

·         Additionally, India has also been witnessing a feminisation of agriculture, where more and more women are being employed as either cultivators or laborers.

·         Given how agriculture in India is extremely seasonal and rain-fed, any change in the climate has a direct impact on the availability of employment opportunities as well.

·         The impact of climate change on such a crucial sector has also begun to induce out-migration of men, leaving several women with a considerably increased workload to plug the gap. Among other things, this phenomenon has resulted in a considerable numbers of female students missing classes in school to accommodate the increased workload.

·         Constraints faced by women in terms of their access to resources too add to their woes. For example, even when a government rolls out any initiatives in the agricultural sector, there is an inclination to directly deal with the landholders, majority of which are men.

·         Needless to say, the paradigms of gender differentiation are not limited to the rural context alone and are even prevalent in the urban Indian context. But despite recognition of this phenomenon, climate change policies and the responses of it have not been developed in tandem with the wider gender gap that exists within the Indian society. In fact, the gendered aspect of climate change has always resulted in a discussion about the vulnerability or victimisation of women.

·         The need of the hour is perhaps, a well-strategised climate communication plan, where every Indian is aware not only about the changes in the climatic conditions but also the adverse impacts of it.

·         Overall, the government of India has engaged with climate change related issues for many years, but due to the federal nature of the country, all adaptation measures, including on mitigation, are in many ways, state subjects.

·         The central government has a National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC), and various states have developed their own individual State Action Plans on Climate change (SAPCC).

·         At the time of initiation of both, the NAPCC and various SAPCCs were completely gender blind. The central government had issued a set of guidelines for state governments to formulate their action plans but even these guidelines were gender silent.

·         The Ministry of Women and Child Development, which is key to facilitating measures to address the gendered impact of climate change neither has an officer designated for climate change issues nor any separate department dealing with climate change.

·         Similarly, a number of other ministries that are pertinent in the effort to mitigate climate change effects, such as the Ministry of Agriculture, are largely gender blind.

·         A 2014 study on gender budgeting for climate change adaptation in four Indian states found that most of the budgets of state level departments are dedicated towards poverty alleviation programs instead of being distributed across sectors that require climate change adaptation.

·         However, following advocacy efforts, the central government acknowledged the need to incorporate the gender aspect within the guiding documents in order to better insulate Indian women from the adverse effects of climate change.

·         The states could utilise their own discretion on either inserting an entire chapter on gender at the end of their SAPCC or they could mainstream gender throughout the document. The ultimate requirement is for these action plans to be gender responsive in theory and practice.

·         This will require a shift from a purely welfare-oriented approach to a focus on creation of assets and control for women.

·         With a sound understanding of what gender empowerment actually entails, a government policy should assist women in increasing and securing their access to resources. Substantial and sustainable progress on this front could contribute considerably towards ensuring the rights and well-being of Indian women as well as their ability to deal with the adverse effects of changing climatic conditions.


Rappourtered by Akanksha Khullar, Researcher, IReS, IPCS, and Joost Fidder, Research Intern, IReS, IPCS.


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