Climate change is an issue of injustice – and its impacts are not being felt equally.
While the much-talked-about uneven distribution of the impacts of climate change are the woes of the poor and least developed countries, the evidence and growing body of studies delineate that women are the ones who bear most of the brunt in these poor countries.
Coincidentally, they are least likely to adapt to climate change as well. Since women are enmeshed in the household activities in these countries, the situation for them turns out to be more challenging.
Not only in the aftermath of a climate change-induced disaster but also after years following the disaster, they continue to suffer.
This opinion piece will elucidate the disproportionate burden on women, related to climate change, on the basis of few incidences in Bangladesh.
Many women in Bangladesh had to adapt in the past and would require adapting in the future to the changed climatic conditions.
Severe cyclones in the past had altered their lifestyles to a great degree, compared to business-as-usual situations.
Many of them hardly have relief as Bangladesh is at the forefront of climate change with the likelihood of increasing events, such as cyclones, droughts, and floods in the future. Recent evidence conforms to the hypothesis too.
Women in Bangladesh are usually the ones who fetch water and firewood to meet the necessities of their families - for instance, cooking food, cleaning floors and bathing children, and so on.
These are some things that have been practiced for years in different parts of the country, including rural and coastal areas. Climate change-induced events have further aggravated the situation.
In coastal areas of Bangladesh, the job of gathering water and energy resources has become more laborious.
After two severe cyclones, namely SIDR and Aila in November 2007 and May 2009 respectively, women and girls now find most of their nearby water sources salinated. They need to travel for hours to fetch fresh water.
And it is not just physical labour but also the (hidden) economic value of their additional time that they now put onto these jobs, which, otherwise, could have enabled them to be engaged in additional productive activities. It is, perhaps, for them physiologically exhausting too.
Besides, untamed climate change continues to invade the coastal areas of Bangladesh, making it harder for women to manage their household errands.
Cyclone Amphan did exactly this amidst the pandemic in 2020. Additionally, in the times of drought and erratic rainfall, women and girls need to put in more effort, walk further and spend more time collecting water and fuel.
From another dimension, women in Bangladesh, like in many other parts of the world, are generally entrusted with the responsibilities of childbearing and are family caregivers.
With the increasing severity of climate change, women are burdened with more household activities. This has severe consequences on their daughters and many girls, reportedly, leave school permanently to help their mothers out in routine jobs. It fuels serious inequality.
With the dropping out of girls from school and the likelihood that they would never return to school, intergenerational poverty only increases. Maybe, it would limit the government's efforts to eradicate poverty and ensure sustainable development.
Against such a backdrop, during the last decade, many pilot projects have been undertaken in the aftermath of the two cyclones, i.e., SIDR and Aila, encompassing solar-driven technical interventions, to deliver clean water to different coastal areas and minimise some of the challenges that women are confronted with.
The major concern is the widespread adoption of such technologies and making them sustainable. Nevertheless, these projects have shown the factors that might be considered to make real progress in terms of adaptation and addressing women's vulnerability in the coastal areas of Bangladesh.
And a new project under the Green Climate Fund (GCF), supported by the UNDP, intended for the women of the selected coastal areas, is expected to deliver climate-resilient solutions.
It is also important to delve deeper into the root causes that make women disproportionately more vulnerable. To that end, IPCC and different UN bodies have concluded that women have roles that are very rigid and quite different from those of men.
They are more dependent on local natural resources to serve the basic needs of their families. Many of their tasks are time-consuming and done manually. On the other side of the coin, women in quite notable cases are the agents of change and adaptation.
Over the years, they have acquired some level of knowledge and skills for natural resource management and local adaptation. And yet, it is less pronounced, and they do not receive the recognition that they ideally should.
To conclude, the cost being borne by women and girls due to climate change is very high and the impact at the national level is very high too. It would, therefore, be better to address this adequately through the National Adaptation Plan (NAP).
In fact, there is an opportunity to design the NAP such that it could provide the foundation for a just, transformational and sustainable adaptation in the midst of climate change, irrespective of gender.
To ensure all people of the country have an equal footing to live and work to thrive, which we are longing for, women and girls can not be left behind.
The author is a Humboldt scholar and an environmental economist
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.