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Women empowerment – a two-way street in Rural India

Despite playing an essential role in the rural economy by working as farmers, daily wage workers, traditional knowledge disseminators and entrepreneurs, women are often discriminated against and deprived of equal access to education, health, work, freedom, and lifestyle. Even after getting employed, women usually get paid much lesser wages than male workers. SHRUTI BANSAL describes their plight

More than 48 per cent of India’s rural population comprises the female gender. They play an essential role in the rural economy by working as farmers, daily wage workers, traditional knowledge disseminators, entrepreneurs etc. They often also serve a significant role in managing household work, childcare, elderly care, taking care of ill ones and providing healthy food to the family members. About 80 per cent of economically active women work in the agricultural sector, with 48 per cent working as self-employed farmers and 33 per cent as agricultural labour.

Despite all this, women are often discriminated against and deprived of equal access to education, health, work, freedom, and lifestyle. Even after getting employed, women usually get paid much lesser wages than male workers. While 85 per cent of rural women work in agriculture, only 13 per cent have land ownership rights.

With the rising temperature and increasing climatic change events, women are much more vulnerable and susceptible to risk. Empowering women is a way forward towards achieving sustainability, poverty elimination, rural economic development, climate change mitigation and climate change adaptation. Nations should align women empowerment with economic development since both are closely related. Achieving this means enhancing women’s participation in education, health, politics, and industry. On the other hand, the rise in women discrimination adversely affects the economy.

When assessing levels of education, women lag behind men. Safety issues, insufficient female teachers, common washrooms, caring for younger ones are some reasons women rarely get a chance even to get a basic education. Several studies suggest that the effects of climate change are different for women and men. Rural women generally don’t possess the ownership rights to their property, resources, or finances. As a result, the probability of women and children losing their life is fourteen times higher than men. Inaccessibility to public warnings, difficulty in getting new settlement plots, unapproachability to claim post-disaster benefits, etc. Moreover, post-disaster, women are expected to do all the household clean-up work, take care of sick members, and manage the routine. All this prevents them from working outside, depending on male members for financial support.

Women’s participation in climate change mitigation

Before going into detail about the need for women’s empowerment in context with rural economy and climate change, let us first understand the meaning of women empowerment. Women empowerment includes:

  • Understanding the viewpoint of women in decision making
  • Giving equal access to women in terms of education, Health, Politics etc
  • Ultimately enabling them to become financially independent

Women’s participation as a driver of climate change mitigation and adaptation has excellent potential since women are experts in resource conservation and environmental sustainability. Unfortunately, women are under-represented and left out of key decision-making at local and national levels. Several pieces of research suggest that women have a better understanding of climate change patterns and are better at recommending ways to adapt to and mitigate climate change. Moreover, they have excellent knowledge of crop diversification, climate-resilient cropping, and resource optimisation, essential in increasing agricultural productivity. This knowledge, in turn, can help lower food insecurity, poverty and starvation.

Since rural women are associated with highly resource-dependent sectors; for example, agriculture, women are expected to face more challenges with the changing climate. Therefore, the climate change adaptation measures should include women’s participation, helping enhance and secure women’s livelihoods. This could be done by providing required training to teach women about the optimum resource utilization, introducing new technologies and methods related to agriculture, promoting self-employment etc. Furthermore, research studies claim that post-disaster recovery is quicker if women are included in the disaster management and early warning system. Women are known for utilising green and efficient climate change solutions and adapting swiftly to the changing scenario.

The success of women’s empowerment to tackle and adapt to climate change can be judged by the success of Bhungroo Irrigation Technology. The technology came into existence after the 2001 earthquake, which had resulted in water scarcity followed by the monsoon rains. People were having trouble adapting to these abruptly changing climatic conditions. The first step was to scrutinise the natural hydrological cycle and suggest that people store water during the monsoon and harvest the stored water in the dry season. Subsequently, women were trained to manage the technology and tools, which improved their social skills, and were now a step closer towards controlling their natural and social environment. Consequently today, women are able to support the communities to adapt to changing climatic patterns and in charge of harvesting and storing the water.

Swayam Shikshan Prayog (SSP), an Indian NGO, is another success story of empowering women in clean energy, sustainable agriculture, and natural resource management. Under this program, SSP trained about 60000 women to start their businesses. In addition, the trained women help in the easy adoption of these technologies by performing various roles such as clean technology users, educators, providers, and customer support.

The Government of India has also launched various schemes related to women empowerment including the Support to Training and Employment Programme (STEP). STEP provides skills that enable women to be self-sufficient/ entrepreneurs. In addition, Nari Shakti Puruskars are national awards for honouring the institution making efforts to improve the lives of marginalised and vulnerable women, and Mahila E-Haat is an online e-marketing platform for women. Overall, the measures are meant to increase women’s participation in economic activities and motivate them to become entrepreneurs.

It is evident from the above discussion that women’s empowerment is the need of an hour for achieving sustainable economic development. Eradication of gender inequality and encouraging women’s participation as leaders, entrepreneurs, trainers, educators is required to decrease the climate change vulnerability of women. Empowering rural women is obligatory to promote sustainable agriculture, poverty alleviation, and reducing the impacts of climate change.

(Courtesy: wotr.org)

June 2022

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