Women as drivers of climate change resilience transformation

-Md. Faruque Biswas

Almost 200 years ago, the Scottish economist Adam Smith emphasized the role of education and the development of human capability (i) in leading a worthwhile life, as well as; (ii) in creating more sustainable societies. What Smith could not have foreseen are the effects of climate change on human and social-economic development. Today, there is a widespread consensus that a new economic model is needed to prevent adverse effects of climate change on society. The needed changes will have a profound effect on how we will work, how we move, how we create and use energy and how we use the earth’s natural resources. The new economic pillars of the blue, green and circular society are emerging in the discourse of international and national development frameworks to reshape the current social and economic models. The current pandemic COVID-19 exacerbate this process of transformation and provided additional ammunition to the thinking the current path of social and economic growth is simply not sustainable.

Bangladesh might be considered one of the global frontrunners in climate change adaptation and mitigation. The Government of Bangladesh has initiated the process to draft a national Adaptation Framework, it published a far reaching Delta plan 2100 paper and it is home to one of the global leading research institutes on climate change, the International Centre for Climate Change and Development ICCCAD. Moreover, climate change is embedded in various ministerial departments. Rightly so because climate change is upon us, does not go away and if it is not addressed in local development plans, it will result affect prosperity. Because of the various initiatives to deal with climate change the country is internationally praised for its leading role in climate change adaptation, but significant resources are needed to coordinate, adapt and mitigate the effects of projected future climate threats.

With a population of 163 million crammed into a space of 148,460 km²,Bangladesh is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. The Deltaic formation of the country makes it extremely vulnerable to the effects of climate change. While the effects of climate change impacts everyone, women and other vulnerable groups, often feel the brunt of climate change. During extreme events such as droughts, floods and other climate-related disasters, women face disproportional risks. They often have the role of caretaker of children and gendered cultural dress codes may inhibit their mobility during a flood, resulting in higher disproportionate mortality during disasters.

The threats of climate to the country and its people are so serious that a transformation and change process across the nation is needed. A change that supports the conversion towards a green economy that is low on carbon and uses renewable energy resources; a blue economy that is based on sustainable use of ocean resources; and a circular economy model that minimizes waste based on the 3Rs (Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle). Moreover, a change and transformation process that is all-inclusive and recognizes women as critical drivers of climate action and have local knowledge what works and what does not work. They can be viewed as leaders, educators and role models changing the behavior of citizens in locally-led climate adaptation initiatives.

Full participation of women in locally-led activities and programs aimed at regional and community level with due awareness of the local context will increase climate readiness and will likely have spill-over effects on society as a whole. Building effective climate adaptation strategies demand of course the participation of all to ensure that the knowledge and experience of those facing the effects of climate change are used effectively. As the primary providers of food, water and firewood in rural areas, women often live on the frontlines of climate change and have distinct knowledge and experience to contribute to building effective adaptation strategies. However, despite growing awareness and recognition that women are important actors and influencers in climate change policy, they remain largely under-represented in decision-making and planning processes, especially at local levels, which can further exacerbate existing patterns of marginalization. By promoting the participation of women in climate change adaptation, community acceptance and transformation will have a greater chance of success. There is a caveat to the participation of women in decision-making processes: women have usually less capacities to access and use relevant data and information resources to be considered in climate discussions. There is a need to address this issue across the nation. Making practical and applicable climate change knowledge available is probably the foremost priority at national and community level. Another important aspect of building local capacity is transparent processes on how the money available for locally-led climate adaptation is allocated.

When this article mentions ‘women’ it is necessary to clarify that women are not a homogenous group. Other societal factors such as indigeneity, race, class, location, age, and the ability affect experiences including their capacity to access and apply information and knowledge in decision-making processes. To encourage women and other marginalized groups to participate in locally-led adaptation processes there is a need to invite them to participatory development processes and they should be considered equal partners ( and not an add-on) in decision-making processes.

To have both women, men and to some extend youth involved in exploring opportunities for local development plans, broadens the perspectives, increases creativity and innovation, reduces conflicts ultimately leading to an improved process of decision-making and as this will better represent the community views and above all, plans will be understood and accepted. Recognizing the voice of women and the youth stimulates developing new ideas. The idea is really simple – bring people who work in different contexts together and let them exchange ideas: new perspectives emerge and help to create new solutions to problems. Innovations, thus, seek to create an environment that stimulates changes in perspective. We cannot plan the management of ‘innovation’, but we can foster the situational context in which innovations may emerge. The proposed capacity-building efforts can be framed around:

  1. Build the capacity of women for dialogue and the resolution of natural resource-related disputes affecting their communities.
  2. Enhance women’s contributions in economic recovery by investing in climate-resilient sustainable livelihoods and building their capacity to access environmental data for improved livelihood outcomes.
  3. sProtect women from conflict-related sexual and gender-based violence through sustainable resource management, including investments in energy conservation technologies and access to clean water.