Climate change and women in South Asia: a review and future policy implications

Date26 July 2019
Publication Date26 July 2019
AuthorSangram Kishor Patel,Gopal Agrawal,Bincy Mathew,Sunita Patel,Biswajit Mohanty,Abhishek Singh
SubjectPublic policy & environmental management
Climate change and women in
South Asia: a review and future
policy implications
Sangram Kishor Patel
Population Council, New Delhi, India
Gopal Agrawal
Directorate of Census Operations, Bhopal, India
Bincy Mathew
Population Council, New Delhi, India
Sunita Patel
Central University of Gujarat, Gandhinagar, India
Biswajit Mohanty
Population Council, New Delhi, India, and
Abhishek Singh
National Institute of Technology, Hamirpur, India
Purpose South Asian region is a focal point owing to its vulnerabilities to climate-sensitive diseases,
dependence on climate-sensitive livelihoods, projected levels of crop decline in the region, and high rates of
poverty and malnutrition. Women are particularly vulnerable to climate change and this affects women
disproportionately during different extreme events. The purpose of this paper is to understand the issue of
climate change and its impact, and climate resilience among women in South Asia. Further, it also identifies
the gaps and suggests future policy implications.
Design/methodology/approach Climate change is increasingly being recognised as an alarming issue
and the present review is important when South Asian countries are facing the brunt of climate change
impacts. This paper tries to understand the issue by review of the literature and conceptual framework
methodology. To understand womens vulnerability due to climate change and its aftermath, the authors
conducted both offline and online desk reviews for this study.
Findings The findings of this study show a clear linkage between climate change and womens
vulnerabilities in South Asia. Climate change has significant socio-economic impacts on women, and it affects
them disproportionately in various domains of agriculture, livelihood, food security, both physical and mental
health, water and sanitation in the South Asia region.
Practical implications The paper also highlights that the programmes that aim at combating the effects
of climate change require a gender-sensitive approach so that climate change does not obstruct the
development and reduction of poverty in the region.
Social implications The findings of this paper will add value in helping families to come out of poverty by
undertaking adaptive measures with proactive assistance from the government and grassroots level organisations.
Originality/value The present study also advocates for more gender- and climate-sensitivemeasures from
governments, and implementation of intervention- and evidence-based research in the South Asian countries.
Keywords Women, Resilience, Climate change, South Asia, Extreme events
Paper type Literature review
1. Background
Climate change is a seriouscause of concern in our time, owing to the catastrophicimpact of
natural hazards onthe lives of people, destruction of the environment and devastation of the
economy. Climate change is expected to amplify disaster risk by leading to an increase in
the frequency, intensity and duration of natural hazards, intensifying vulnerability and
exposure (IPCC,2012). Climate change is a global challengethat burdens the whole humanity
World Journal of Science,
Technology and Sustainable
Vol. 17 No. 2, 2020
pp. 145-166
© Emerald PublishingLimited
Received 11 October 2018
Revised 21 May 2019
Accepted 24 June 2019
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
Climate change
and women in
South Asia
but not equally.The increase in frequency of extreme eventsdeteriorates the living conditions
of people, especiallyin developing countries that arealready bearing disproportionateburden
of climate change impacts. Island countries and African countries are anticipated to be most
vulnerable to climate change by 2030. Althor et al. (2016) showed that among the 36 highest
greenhouse gas (GHG) emitting countries, around 20 countries are least vulnerable to
dismissive impacts of future climate change, and contrastingly, 11 of the 17 low or moderate
GHG emitting countries are highly susceptible to dismissive impacts of climate change.
Countries having higher GHG emissions are aware about their detrimental impacts on the
worlds environment. However, many of them are consciously emitting higher GHGs just to
drive their economic growth and development (Zhang, 2016; Zhanget al., 2018). Other studies
also confirm that developing countries are the most vulnerabledue to climate change and its
impact on water, livelihood, food security and health (Halsnæs and Trærup, 2009).
Although climate change is certainly an environmental phenomenon that necessitates
scientific research and innovation, it also has a security, economic development and human
rights imperative. An IPCC report stated that the vulnerability of communities may
heighten in response to the effects of climate change, because resources are invested in
dealing with its impact instead of using it for development activities (IPCC, 2012). By 2050,
climate change is anticipated to be higher compared to a rise in the risk of hunger by about
10 per cent, whereas child malnutrition is projected to be 20 per cent higher (Halsnæs and
Trærup, 2009). The primary vulnerable sections to be effected by climate change include
women, children, disabled and the elderly. Although the nexus between women and
environment in general has been an issue for many years, it has only started to receive
attention in the last 10 years. Several publications have analysed various connections,
specifically the differentiated impacts of climate change and the absence of women in
climate change policy, in addition to the role women could play if they would be fully
involved (Masika, 2002). Studies show that the worlds poor, the majority of whom are
women, are susceptible to climate change effects (Vinke et al., 2017; UNDP, 2013; Lambrou
and Piana, 2006) and have lesser capacity to cope, as they have inadequate access to
resources (Vinke et al., 2017; Demetriades and Esplen, 2008; IUCN, 2015).
1.1 Justification
Literature show that women count among the most vulnerable sections that have been impacted
by climate change, and climate change has a varying impact on women and men owing to
existing gender inequalities. The impact of climate change can aggravate existing gender
inequalities, and the ability to adapt to climate change is also affected by inequality (UNDP,
2013; IUCN, 2015), as women are disproportionately affected by disasters (Ramachandran, 2013;
IUCN, 2015). Inequalities exist in the form of sexual division of labour in poor communities such
that women traditionally have many responsibilities, which increase owing to climate change
effects. Women in the family generally have the responsibility for fetching water and producing
food and climate change makes performing these tasks challenging (IUCN, 2015). Whenever
there is an outbreak of disease, women are expected to take the responsibility of caring for ailing
family members, which increases their responsibilities and burden of work. Additionally, male
migration due to the extreme events further increases the workload for women. In developing
countries, the adaptive capacity of women gets curtailed, as they often do not have control over
land (Lambrou and Piana, 2006).
In many of these contexts, women are more vulnerable to the effects of climate change
than men primarily as they constitute the majority of the worlds poor (around 70 per cent)
and are more dependent for their livelihood on natural resources that are threatened by
climate change (UNDP, 2013). Despite women being disproportionately affected by climate
change, they play a crucial role in climate change adaptation and mitigation. Women have
the knowledge and understanding of what is needed to adapt to changing environmental

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