Holding up 1/2 the sky on climate action

The involvement of Nepal’s women is imperative in adapting to the impacts of climate breakdown

Indra Maya Tamang waters her farm in Kavre. She is a participant of agricultural and entrepreneurship training provided by UN Women with Finland’s support. Photo: UN WOMEN/MERIT MAHARJAN

Nepal is one of the world’s most vulnerable countries to the impacts of climate change. Himalayan glaciers are melting at an exceptional rate, threatening the lives and livelihoods of millions of people who depend on glacier-fed rivers.

Nepal is party to the Paris Agreement of 2016, the first legally binding international treaty on climate change that aims to limit global warming to ‘well below’ 2o above pre-industrial levels, preferably 1.5 °.

The Covid-19 pandemic has not slowed down the pace of climate change, and there is an increasing likelihood that the goals of the Paris Agreement and Agenda 2030 will not be met in time.

With its development partners Nepal seeks to address the inevitable effects of climate change. Having recognised the triple threats of Covid-19, climate change and rising inequality, Nepal adopted the Green, Resilient and Inclusive Development (GRID) approach in 2021 to achieve economic growth while addressing environmental degradation and social inequalities.

For this there is a need to focus on women’s roles in climate-related action. Women and girls are bearing a disproportionate impact of climate change because of socially embedded and stereotypical gender roles.

Read also: Nepali women doubly burdened by climate change,  Sewa Bhattarai

Women are generally more likely than men to experience the adverse effects of climate change because they constitute most of the poor, and are usually directly dependent on threatened natural resources as their primary source of food and income.

Women-led interventions are therefore needed to link the economy, gender, social inequality and climate change. Already, the impact on the lives of women is evident, especially in developing countries, where the loss of natural resources has a direct impact on food and water security.

A National Climate Change Impact Survey in 2016 revealed that over 84% of households in Nepal suffered depletion of surface water, with a majority also reporting new crop diseases, invasive pests and additional health problems in livestock.

With over 74% of households in Nepal using biomass for fuel, women are predominantly tasked with collecting water and firewood. Moreover, three-quarters of the female workforce in Nepal is engaged in agriculture. The loss of surface water, crops and forest cover means  women have been bearing the brunt of climate change.

Read also: Women moving Nepal’s climate activism,  Sewa Bhattarai

Climate change also drives conflict and increases the vulnerabilities of women and girls to gender-based violence, human trafficking, and child marriage.Women are also more likely to drop out of school due to the growing economic burden.

Improving the conditions of women – especially through better education and health care – would not only reduce poverty and benefit society, but also mitigate the impact of climate change.

Climate change is a complex phenomenon, but the debate around it is too often one-sided. The gender perspective is not always sufficiently taken into account during global discussions. This amplifies existing inequalities that pose unique threats to the livelihoods, health and safety of women and girls.

Women have a special role to play in tackling climate change and their under-representation in negotiations does not reflect their unique skills and knowledge. Because women have a greater responsibility for the natural resources used by households, they also have experience on their acquisition and use.

This knowledge in agriculture, conservation and natural resource management, particularly at the local level , can ensure action and adaptation methods that are more effective.

In March 2022, the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), the principal intergovernmental body dedicated to gender equality and women’s empowerment, is assembled for its 66th session from 14-25 March in New York.

The priority theme of CSW66 is ‘Achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls in the context of climate change, environmental and disaster risk reduction policies and programmes.’

The CSW has highlighted that women and girls' participation and leadership are critical for making climate, environmental and disaster risk action more effective. The importance of leveraging ancestral knowledge and practices of indigenous peoples and local communities for gender-responsive climate action has been reiterated in the CSW 66 Agreed Conclusions.

Ensuring the equal and full participation of women in climate decision-making, planning and implementation is a requisite to protecting women’s rights and promoting gender equality.

The potential and role of women in seeking solutions to a problem that transcends regions and generations must not be ignored. Combating climate change and its impact requires the inclusion of women in all levels of decision-making. It is crucial to the survival of our planet.

Navanita Sinha is the Head of Office a.i. of UN Women Nepal 

Pertti Anttinen is the Ambassador of Finland to Nepal.

Read more: Women and water, Editorial