aEconomic gender parity as well as social parity ensures gains not only for economies of developed countries but also developing countries. They can build momentum until they have a positive impact for women and girls around the world because empowering women is no longer just an ethical issue. They are essential for developing countries to be able to achieve sustainable development and a sustainable future.
Analyst Gurib Fakim has significantly pointed out that “all institutions have their role to play. Private companies can tackle issues both externally and internally. Internally, they can work on the changes of the gender split in board rooms, correcting the gender pay gap, working to end discrimination, and creating a work culture that empowers women. Externally, companies can invest in projects that directly support the development of women as well as form partnerships with charities and communities to give girls and women the education, skills and opportunities they need to succeed.”
In this context it is being hoped that funds pledged at COP26 will go towards local communities and grassroots women’s groups in Asia Pacific to challenge gender inequalities, and will assist women and girls to adapt to the impacts created by climate variability. As key contributors to communities, as carers and activists, as well as in local food systems and in the home, women are in a unique position to drive longer-term climate resilience and assist in efforts towards mitigation and adaptation. However, if they do not get the required institutional support, it is feared at least 12.5 million girls in lower-income countries may be deprived from completing their education. It has also been observed by some women civil activists that the effects of climate change have put women at increased risk of hunger, food insecurity and violence.
Women’s vulnerability to climate change is social, economic, and cultural. Women in climate vulnerable nations tend to be highly dependent on local natural resources for their livelihoods, particularly in rural areas where they shoulder the responsibility for household supplies. However, women must not be seen as passive victims of climate change but as active and effective agents of change. This is threatening women’s income, health and way of life, particularly, in Africa, parts of South Asia, and many developing countries. Entire households most of the time depend on them to provide food, fuel and water which is expected to become scarcer as temperature rises. Recent electronic media programmes have highlighted how they sometimes have to walk miles to fetch the water from distant water sources.
Mary Robinson in this regard has correctly observed that Women have long been the custodians of the environment in many traditional societies. It is women who are often the providers of food, the stewards of seed banks, and the decision-makers at household level. It is often women who are the early adopters of new techniques and who are frequently the first responders in disaster situations. Our world is also full of remarkable women leading the way as climate scientists, litigators, community organizers, business owners, policy-makers, inventors and more.
One needs to recall the many pledges and promises made on gender-just climate action, like the ones made at COP26 and earlier in 2021 at the Generation Equality Forum. These were important decisions but unfortunately most of them have not been transformed into action. We must understand that equitable and inclusive decision-making means not only ensuring that women and girls are always at decision-making tables but also that women and girls from particularly marginalized groups such as indigenous and rural communities are also present. We need to ensure that COP 27 will be more inclusive.
Given the importance and magnitude of the global challenges that different areas of the world face, we have to focus on harnessing the leadership, ability and aptitude of women. While doing so, we need to take into account their unpaid care and domestic work, and ensure gender-responsive economic policies for job creation, poverty reduction and sustainable, inclusive growth. It must be remembered that they are not just housewives but also home makers.
Yet, women continue to be marginalized. It has been noted by Fakim in this regard that despite their significant role, they have small representation in the Boards of international financial institutions- only about 19% of IMF and World Bank boards and less than 30% of most national Parliaments. The gender pay gap also continues to be an issue. Worldwide, women share 35% of the global income, an increase of only 5% since 1990.
Analysts have also observed that the ability of women to financially provide for themselves and their families is being affected in a massive manner within the matrix of the 1.3 billion people living in poverty in Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. This is particularly being noticed within this paradigm where over 60 per cent of women are employed in agriculture labour-intensive activities, unpaid or poorly remunerated. The gender gap in agricultural productivity exists because women often have unequal access to crucial agricultural inputs such as land, labour, knowledge, fertilizer and improved seeds. This has implications for the income, health and nutrition of both women and children.
It has also been observed by some women civil activists that the effects of climate change have put women at increased risk of hunger, food insecurity and violence. This in turn has threatened women’s income, health and way of life, particularly, as in Africa, parts of South Asia, and many developing countries entire households most of the time depend on them to provide food, fuel and water which is expected to become scarcer as temperature rises. Recent electronic media programmes have highlighted how they sometimes have to walk miles to fetch the water from distant water sources.
It would be fair at this point to also refer to some observations made by Dr. Claudia Sadoff, associated with CGIAR about measures undertaken in Bangladesh for women empowerment. These came out in the first half of March this year when International Women’s Day was being observed. She has noted that the increased empowerment of rural women in Bangladesh over the past 10 years has not been an accident. It was carefully planned. She has noted that a decade ago, not even one in four rural women could be said to have been “empowered” across five key metrics, a figure that surprised even those working on the ground with the country’s poorest. By 2015, this had risen to more than two in five, or 41 per cent, with continued gains in recent years. Apparently, an important reason for this rise was the systematic effort to measure empowerment among rural women in real terms using measurements that were directly related to their daily lives, including farming and fishing.
It seems that these findings have guided and motivated action towards a more targeted approach to improving women’s participation and decision-making in food systems. Analysts, while checking the data, because of efforts to achieve MDG goals, were also in agreement that this has been possible because of not only greater gender equality but subsequent improvements in nutrition, health, and productivity. This gradual reduction in the gender gap is apparently helping Bangladesh as it is climbing the ladder towards a lower-middle-income status- which has denotations of reductions in extreme poverty, as well as child and maternal mortality.
Dr. Claudia Sadoff has also remarked that currently “Bangladesh has demonstrated, unlocking the multiple benefits that gender equality can bring begins with first quantifying the level of empowerment and gender parity among rural women and their communities”. It may be recalled that Bangladesh was the first country to carry out a national household survey that included the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index (WEAI) in 2012. One component of the index provided the first measure of women’s empowerment across five key domains: decisions about agricultural production; access to and decision-making power about agricultural resources; control of use of income; leadership in the community, and time allocation.
In addition, another aspect measured gender parity, or the percentage of women who are empowered or whose achievements have been at least as high as the men in their households. This appears to have allowed women’s empowerment to become a litmus test for agricultural productivity, nutritional status, and public health. All these dimensions and factors encouraged the relevant authorities to take the required next step- government-backed programs that addressed the mutual links between women, agriculture, and food security.
This measure in turn persuaded the Bangladesh’s Ministry of Agriculture, to seek and then implement partnership with international institutions pertaining to agricultural training and nutrition behavior change communication and gender sensitization training in Bangladesh between 2015 and 2018. This effort has notably increased the production of crops other than rice and improved the quality of household diets. This success has been taken note of by many countries who are now also urging WEAI to guide and help them pertaining to formulation of policy, investment decisions and suitable steps related to women’s empowerment that could be leveraged as a gateway towards a healthier, more inclusive and fairer world.
It is clear from the above that governments also have a critical role to play in investing in collecting and reporting on empowerment indicators and working alongside development partners by seeking their data gathered through research. This can then be shared effectively with others through the digital process.
If gender inequality can be gradually reduced and eventually removed- targeted and effective action will bear fruit for every country-, particularly in terms of children’s household diets and long-term nutritional status in every affected region or sub-region.