London: Women in climate change hotspots in Africa and Asia are finding it difficult to make free choices under environmental stress, triggered by climate change, a new study suggests.
According to the researchers, there is growing concern about sustainable and equitable adaptation in climate change hotspots – locations where climatic shifts, social structures and livelihood sensitivity converge to exacerbate vulnerability.
Drawing on data from 25 case studies across hotspots in Asia (India, Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Tajikistan) and Africa (Kenya, Ghana, Namibia, Mali, Ethiopia, Senegal), the study shows how women’s agency, or ability to make meaningful choices and strategic decisions, contributes to adaptation responses.
“In a sense, women do have voice and agency, as they are actively engaging in both production and reproduction, yet this is not contributing to strengthening longer-term adaptive capacities, or indeed their wellbeing,” said study lead author Nitya Rao from the University of East Anglia in the UK.
“Our analysis suggests some common conditions, such as male migration and women’s poor working conditions, combine with either institutional failure, or poverty, to constrain women’s ability to make choices and decisions,” Rao said.
However, these barriers, if addressed in creative ways, could potentially strengthen adaptive capacities and enable more effective adaptation.
The study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, involved researchers from the UK, Nepal, India, Pakistan and South Africa.
The study argues that environmental stress weakens women’s agency even when household structures and social norms are supportive or legal entitlement available.
It leads to household strategies that place increasing responsibilities and burdens on women, especially those who are young, less educated and belong to lower classes, or marginal castes and ethnicities.
While male migration for work does contribute to enhanced income, the degree of such support is both uncertain and irregular.
Confronted with issues of everyday survival, in the absence of supportive infrastructure and services, women often work harder, in poorer conditions, and for lower wages, across the hotspots, with negative wellbeing outcomes, seen particularly in the neglect of their health and nutrition.
The study uses case studies from three distinct regions: 14 in semi-arid regions, six in mountains and glacier-fed river basins and five in deltas.
Predominant livelihoods are agriculture, livestock pastoralism and fishing, supplemented by wage labour, petty trade or business, and income from remittances.
These areas face a range of environmental risks, including droughts, floods, rainfall variability, land erosion and landslides, heat waves, coastal erosion and cyclones.
The authors suggest, firstly, effective social protection, such as the universal public distribution system for cereals in India, or pensions and social grants in Namibia, can contribute to relieving immediate pressures on survival, creating some room for manoeuvre.
Secondly, rather than creating competition among individuals and households, such universal benefits can support processes that strengthen collective action at the community level.