“Provide infra, services to support working women in South Asia battling climate change”

The theme of this year’s international women’s day is – an equal world is an enabled world. We tried to imagine a gender-equal world in a rapidly changing climatic context. IPCC lead author Anjal Prakash spoke to Nitya Rao, a professor of Gender and Development at the School of International Development, University of East Anglia, UK to get her insights on opportunities and challenges with which contend have to contend.

What are the challenges women face in relation to climate change in South Asia?

The invisibility of much of the work women do, in particular, unpaid care and subsistence activities, is the most important challenge. As their work is not recognised, the necessary support, both in terms of services and infrastructure, is not provided either. Secondly, with men often migrating in search of work as an adaptation strategy, women are left to manage the home. There is little attention to ensure access to money and financial services to tide them through these tough times, in particular, in agricultural communities, where income streams are seasonal. Seasonality is then the third challenge that remains unaddressed.

Gender equality is not just an academic issue, it is deeply personal and political. One needs to believe in it and practice it in one’s everyday life.

How do we fill the gender gap for the key challenges you have outlined?

When the problems are recognised, the solutions become obvious. First, one needs to make sure there is universal access, particularly in climate change hotspots, to clean drinking water, clean energy, childcare and healthcare services to ensure women are supported in their domestic and care tasks. Secondly, access to financial resources is key. Women often depend on private moneylenders and end up paying high rates of interest to keep households running. Finally, additional support in terms of food and nutrition security is needed during the seasonal ‘hungry’ periods. For this to be achieved, there is an urgent need to pay attention to women’s lives and their priorities, and listen to what they have to say across decision-making platforms.

According to you, what are the ingredients for a gender-equal world?

This is a broad philosophical question, and hard to measure. But at the very least, a gender-just and gender-equal world requires both women and men to have access to the same opportunities. Women’s choices are not shaped by social norms and the ‘reproductive tax’ that they are subjected to on account of being born as women.

As an established academic, what would your advice be to young women who see you as role model?

Gender equality is not just an academic issue, it is deeply personal and political. One needs to believe in it and practice it in one’s everyday life. This is not always easy, as in many institutions, women are at a disadvantage, but some women can also ‘use’ gender identity to access privileges and overcome disadvantages. If gender equality is practiced in one’s life, it becomes possible to also challenge and question gender biases and inequalities in the public and indeed academic domain. Questioning our practice, which includes our research and teaching, I would say is then central to moving towards gender equality, including in the academe.

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