By Babie Shirin
Climate change and its impact is a matter of serious concern worldwide. Across the world, the impact of climate change affects women and men differently. Women are often responsible for gathering and producing food, collecting water and sourcing fuel for heating and cooking. Climate change has put a challenge in carrying out these daily tasks.
Even if women hailing from poor families know that climate change is affecting their community in a serious way, they probably will not have time to worry about it if they are struggling to feed their children. During times of sickness, they cannot even afford healthcare.
This reporter went through different district of Manipur for a study on climate change and how it affects the women most. What became apparent during the study is that people living with poverty, particularly women are not concerned about the merging changes to the environment. They wake up early each day wondering if they will be able to feed their children or not.
It makes perfect sense that people will not care about long term problems or global issues when they are completely focused on their immediate surroundings with basic needs of living.
A changing climate affects everyone, but it is the poorest and the vulnerable sections of the society, especially women and girls, who bear the brunt of environment, economic and social degradation. Often, women and girls are the last to eat or to be rescued out of their difficult social standings. They face greater health and safety risks as water and sanitation systems become compromised; and they take the load with increased domestic chores even as resources for living dwindle.
A street vendor who is struggling to make her ends meet by selling vegetables at Khwairamband Keithel said, “What is climate change? Yes during summer, it is hot like the cities in the plain areas of India but I do not know it is because of climate change.”
She has been selling vegetables at Khwairamband Keithel for five years. Till today, she has been running her business without having a proper place to sell and she barely earns about Rs. 500 on a daily basis.
Her husband left her in 2015 and since then, she has been coming to the market to sell her vegetables and feed her three children. During the harvest season, she goes for Khutlang (hired hands) and earns by selling vegetables during other seasons.
She said “I am not bothered about any climate change. I am worried about feeding my children and sending them at school. We are earning daily wages by selling vegetables in the market and cannot truly pay attention to all the talks about climate change. Livelihood is more important to us. The State government will work for climate change,” she pointed out.
Another woman vendor said her family has one hectare of paddy field at Thoubal district, Wanggoi area. The paddy has been the source of their livelihood. “This year, we produced less rice crop due to scarcity of rainfall. As the paddy field has been affected by the scarcity, I am worried about next year’s harvest too. When asked about the growing concern on climate change, she honestly said “I have no idea or information on the issue.”
“Yes, we are facing the impact of climate change,” said another woman from Churachandpur who looked familiar with the topic. She said climate change is caused by human greed.
“Mankind in the name of development has damaged natural resources and the natural cycle. Our forefathers cut trees but they also followed the custom of planting new trees. This has been practices by all communities to preserve nature. It is development which has changed the natural environment. For the sake of development, various hills have been leveled. It is said that Jhum cultivation has damaged the hills but it is an ancient cultivation system. The people have been cultivating in wrong patterns and that resulted in ecological damages,” she knowledgeably asserted.
She cultivates maize but her business has been affected since the last two years. She has started following double cropping system but soil erosion and infertility have damaged her maize production.
“Eighty percent of farmers are now women. This in theory is what we call feminisation of agriculture,” said deputy representative, UN Women Office of India, Bhutan, Maldives and Sri Lanka, Nishitha Satyam.
“Whenever the agrarian crisis escalates, we realise that those who are disproportionately impacted by it are women. That puts women at the centre of climate change,” she said.
In Manipur, women are mentally stressed by the existing condition of agriculture. This year, the government has already declared the state as drought hit. In a family, women usually play a larger role. They are more economically, socially and culturally conscious about the prevalent conditions of each sector.
While studying and interacting with women from different districts, it has been observed that women 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 conditions and to come up with practical solutions. But they are still a largely untapped resource. Restricted land rights, lack of access to financial resources, training and technology, and limited access to political decision making spheres often prevent them from playing a full role in tackling climate change and other environment challenges.
“Being on the hills, with no irrigation canals, I can grow rice only when it rains. Otherwise, I am happy growing rice from which I can feed my family,” said Skyle, who has an acre of rain-fed land.
Women in the State are primary seed keepers and processors. However, there are currently no means to provide security of these women in the future. Manipur is now facing food scarcity with less productivity of crops, livestock and fisheries. This has hindered access to food livelihood of those who depend on agriculture for their incomes have been disrupted.
Numbers of women street vendors at Khwairamband Keithel are increasing but the exact data is not yet available. They are all busy earning their livelihood ignoring summer heat or rain. Looking into the resources of the State, there is limited data to prove distinctively that the state has such resources. Many species are dying out but no data is being maintained. There is a huge gap between environment and society at large.
One third of women population in the State lacks awareness on climate change especially those belonging to poorer sections of the society. It is not that they do not know about climate change, it is their livelihood which is considered more important than climate change.
Published under Environment and Climate Change Fellowship (2018- 19)