A Framework to Understand Gender and Structural Vulnerability to Climate Change in the Ganges River

Type Working Paper
Title A Framework to Understand Gender and Structural Vulnerability to Climate Change in the Ganges River
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2014
URL https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/56ec/6a4fd182abea62558f35d753ca37c2ad0264.pdf
As the reality of climate change becomes accepted in the scientific community, it is critical
to continue to understand its impact on the ground, particularly for communities dependent
on agriculture and natural resources. To do so, the analysis of vulnerability – in other words,
the capacity of communities to cope with the effects of change – is critical. An extension of
this is the analysis of social structures, and how they shape patterns of vulnerability and the
capacity for individuals or groups to adapt. This review presents a framework for understanding
structural vulnerability to climate change in the Ganges River Basin countries–Nepal, India and
Bangladesh – with a focus on the role of gender in shaping vulnerability. This paper reviews the
extensive academic and ‘gray’ literature from the region to identify a set of key economic and
social inequalities which shape how men and women are differently affected by climate change
and their capacity to adapt.
The impact of climate change in the Ganges River Basin is complex. With regard to
agriculture, the most notable stress is the increased unpredictability of weather patterns. This
includes extreme weather events such as droughts, floods and cyclones, not to mention more
subtle changes related to the onset of the monsoon and the frequency of rainfall. An increase
in temperature extremes is also a notable concern, affecting both winter and summer cropping.
The impact has locally specific manifestations according to the geography. For example, falling
water tables exacerbated by droughts is a concern in some parts of the Gangetic Plains; extreme
events such as flooding or cyclones can lead to an increase in saline intrusion in the Ganges
Delta, while they can cause more frequent landslides or other mass movements in the Himalayas.
With regard to ‘vulnerability’ in the context of climatic stress, this paper takes a broadly
social constructivist approach. In other words, vulnerability is not considered as a consequence of
natural hazards alone. Instead, it is related to one’s resilience and capacity to cope with, or adapt
to, the context of natural hazards, a process which is intricately connected to social structures
such as gender, class, caste and ethnicity.
A first form of ‘gendered’ vulnerability to climate change relates to labor. In a region with
highly inequitable gender division of labor, the workload of women can be increased by climate
change. Women often play an important role in natural resource-based livelihood activities which
fall within the sphere of reproduction such as the collection of fuelwood and water. Ecological
changes such as salinity intrusion or changes in groundwater availability can force women to travel
longer distances. There is often a class dimension, whereby women from wealthier households
have their own resources such as tube wells in their homesteads, and thus their burden is less.
A second reason why the gender division of labor is important for vulnerability is that women
and men often have separate control over different income sources. If climate change undermines a
particular livelihood activity, this may differentially impact men’s or women’s individual incomes.
This impacts women in South Asia in particular, as the personal income they can control is often
more limited than that of men. Gender norms which restrict their involvement in the public sphere
in activities such as labor and trade mean that agriculture and natural resource-based livelihood
activities often represent the primary sources of personal cash income. These activities are highly
vulnerable to climate change

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