Gender and Climate Change in Nepal

Author: Raunak Mainali

The urgency of climate change has not been lost in Nepal. This monsoon season is predicted to bring record breaking rainfalls which ultimately lead to floods and landslides within the country. Areas such as Melamchi and Butwal have already witnessed devastating floods which has led to destruction, death and displacement of numerous individuals.

The effects of climate change in Nepal are not limited to heavy rainfall as due to an increase in temperature, the mountains synonymous with Nepal are naked and without snow. As a consequence of these effects and more, climate change as a topic is garnering increasing attention. However, even within the topic of climate change, there are niches that warrant more attention. One of these niches is viewing climate change from a gendered perspective.

To address this, Centre for Social Change collaborated with Rizolve.Earth and hosted a virtual roundtable discussion event titled “Climate Change in Nepal: Gender and Displacement”. The event included important insights from Dr Amina Maharjan, Shristi Singh Shrestha and Shilshila Acharya who all have great knowledge and experience of the topic. Whilst a recording the full webinar can be accessed through this link, this article will aim to highlight a few important points from the event.

The dual burden. Picture by @aalokatreya

The Double Burden of Women

Feminist scholarship over the past few decades has placed an emphasis on the dual role of women within society. As a result of the patriarchal society, women shoulder the burden of their work as well as that of care. Care in this context refers to household chores, looking after children and more. Feminist scholarship originally held Western biases as during the 20th century, women were beginning to find professional work. However, it is as applicable in the context of rural Nepal and climate change. Recently, rural Nepal has observed negative net migration as a lack of economic opportunities has sent individuals to the cities or abroad. These individuals, mostly men of working age, travel to Kathmandu, neighbouring India, Malaysia or the Gulf in the hope of finding work. This means that burden of women left behind increases significantly. Women are left in charge of agriculture as well as the household which are demanding, both physically and mentally. Droughts, floods, soil erosion that accompany climate change leads to lower agricultural yields and creates yet another economic obstacle. Due to this, women in rural Nepal are heavily dependent on remittances for their livelihood which reduces their agency and financial independence. This has led to a new wave of migration, mostly of women, who abandon their land to find work within cities.

Covid-19 and Gender

The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has made prominent the existing equalities within our society. Whilst the virus is indiscriminate, the access to resources to avoid and treat the virus is not. As mentioned earlier, as a result of climate change and its effect on agriculture, women have migrated to cities due to economic pressures. These women mostly find work within the hospitality sector where they are incredibly vulnerable to Covid-19. Trends from around the world show that women, who are the backbone of the hospitality sector, have suffered disproportionately due to occupations that expose them to the virus. Also highlighted in the webinar was the importance of interdisciplinary approach to research and the glaring link between climate change and the Covid-19 pandemic in Nepal reinforces its need.

Women in Leadership Roles

Despite a constitutional promise of increased gender parity in the political sphere, Nepal is still far behind in this regard. As we have already discovered, climate change in Nepal has disproportionately affected women due to their involvement in agriculture and hospitality. Additionally, women in rural areas have less access to information and resources. The desperation as a result of this has led to women taking out loans at very high interest rates. In order to address these issues, there needs to be initiatives to increase women’s participation in leadership positions. However, there are a few obstacles to this. As mentioned earlier, women are already balancing a dual role and asking to participate in leadership will increase the burden of them. Moreover, the patriarchal reality of Nepal means that women’ participation has been undermined actively. Addressing these issues has to occur at a local and community level. Community based activities has to potential to lessen the burden on women as well as better educate the populace on gender relations. The regional, ethnic, caste and class divides that exist within Nepal should also be considered as these disparities are reflected within genders.

The views and opinions expressed in the piece above are solely those of the original author(s) and contributor(s). They do not necessarily represent the views of Governance Monitoring Centre Nepal and/or Centre for Social Change.