Environment & energy, Trade and industry, International relations, Arts, culture & society | South Asia

7 October 2022

The ideas of influential women working on climate action in India highlight the need for more gender-focused climate policies to protect the world’s most vulnerable people, Zainab Agha writes.

Climate change is an extremely nuanced issue with global effects, but due to structural inequalities, it is women who are the most vulnerable to the consequences of inaction. Climate change exacerbates the inequalities women face, especially in the Global South.

But this also means that when women participate in climate action discourse, they can be invaluable agents of change.

In India, several initiatives exist across states that provide women with the right tools and education to take the lead in energy transition and the effects of climate change.

One non-governmental organisation (NGO) in Ahmedabad, for instance, showcases the approaches needed to tackle inequality and climate change. Through collective action, Mahila Housing Trust is empowering women from some of the most vulnerable communities to become leaders of change. The Trust spreads awareness and knowledge of the impacts and solutions to climate change in local languages.

Governments are taking similar steps too. Maharashtra, the second-most populous state in India, is taking a leading role in subnational climate action. At the start of 2022, in partnership with C40 Cities, it signed a Letter of Intent to launch a Women4Climate Mentorship.

More on this: Why India must make gender equity a top priority

In fact, across India, NGOs and government ramping up their cooperation on this issue.

In coastal districts of Odisha in India’s east, the effects of climate change are already disproportionately affecting women. To tackle this, the Regional Centre for Development Cooperation formed a local committee consisting of men and women in equal numbers, ensuring that the centre can hear the voices of women in community-based management and decision-making and implement their ideas.

Meanwhile, under the State Action Plan on Climate Change (SAPCC), the government of Odisha is implementing various policies aimed at mitigating gender-based vulnerabilities to climate change.

In Kerala, in India’s south, is the Wayanad district. It harbours tiger reserves and wildlife sanctuaries that are crucial to India’s biodiversity. The district has introduced an ambitious women-led policy, the Meenangadi Carbon Neutral initiative, that aims to achieve carbon neutrality through a community-focused, bottom-up approach.

Women-led climate action is crucial to this, and as such the policy focuses strongly on the participation of women to ensure its climate policies are as inclusive as possible.

More on this: Is coal reliance a barrier to gender equality?

Finally, in India’s far-northern Jammu and Kashmir region, women living in rural communities are among the most affected by the adverse impacts of climate change. A women-led NGO there, the Swaniti Initiative, has been working for state governments across India on various sectors and themes, showcasing the ways that inclusivity is key to combating the climate crisis.

These examples leave no doubt – women’s leadership is critical to addressing the climate crisis, yet most decision-makers continue to be men with limited insight on gendered perspectives.

Leaving women out of the climate change discourse will create a vicious cycle of vulnerability, and will make avoidable future disasters inevitable.

India urgently needs women-led climate action. Across the globe, women are under-represented in the decision-making processes around climate mitigation and adaptation. Climate change requires intersectional, long-term solutions. Policymakers must acknowledge the significant role women play as decision-makers, stakeholders, educators, carers, and experts.

In India and elsewhere, there are already many women at the forefront of the climate crisis. Their invaluable work should be celebrated, but it also shows that the world needs more gender-focused climate strategies.

Disclosure: the author is an employee of the Climate Group, which works with a number of organisations and governments mentioned in this piece, including through the Under2 Coalition, of which Climate Group is the Secretariat.

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