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Mountain women on the frontlines of climate action

Pema Gyamtsho & H.E. Torun Dramdal

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Women from Kuikel Thumka talk about how simple, climate-resilient, and water-efficient technologies such as poly house, drip irrigation, mulching and digital services including mobile app have helped them adapt to climate change. Photo: Jitendra Raj Bajracharya/ICIMOD.

Climate change impacts all of us, but this burden is not evenly spread out. Our experiences, our privileges, our support systems, our ability to cope – these dictate how the very real consequences of today’s climate crisis impact us. We know that women face exclusion and unequal burdens. Their access to resources, rights, assets, and power remains fettered. Climate change only deepens these inequalities – manifold.

Take the women from the Hindu Kush Himalaya region, which straddles eight countries and is one of the poorest and most neglected regions in the world. Women here have had to contend with men migrating in search of employment by shouldering more responsibilities: welfare and community work, agricultural labour, and natural resource use and management, among many other duties.

To add to this feminization of responsibilities, women from the HKH region have had to navigate through climate change-related uncertainty and hardships, and the precarity that comes with this. Climate change impacts are felt more severely and rapidly in the HKH than anywhere else. These disruptions to lives and livelihoods are very real and very serious. Domestic drudgery is compounded by climate change, which leaves little room for growth and other opportunities. And women farmers in the HKH have to deal with growing water scarcity, unpredictable and extreme weather events, falling productivity, and poor access to financial resources and market linkages. They also have to carve out alternative sources of livelihoods as traditional subsistence becomes harder by the day.

As farmers, as entrepreneurs, as caretakers, and in the host of other roles thrust upon them, women now have to adapt to these disruptions of climate change. We can learn a great deal from the important contributions and adaptations women make towards climate action. Recognizing this, the Government of Norway and ICIMOD have been working together with Nepali women to address the sharp gendered inequalities in climate change adaptation. When we recently visited different municipalities in Kavrepalanchok, Nepal, where we have been piloting a package of context-specific solutions that are gender responsive, simple, and affordable, we were inspired by how women are leading the way with innovative, climate-resilient solutions and approaches.

The women of Kavrepalanchok

Women are at the forefront of climate change impacts, and at Kavrepalanchok have been active and effective agents and promoters of adaptation and mitigation.

For instance, we are working to develop a green, resilient, and inclusive entrepreneurial ecosystem for economic and environmental sustainability in Khawa village. Women’s groups have formed a home-based enterprise that processes milk and sells value-added milk products at local markets in and around the Kathmandu valley. Although the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the enterprise’s supply chains, these women’s groups worked with government line agencies and private sector organizations to get back on track. During the pandemic, we also trained women entrepreneurs in Khawa to produce off-farm products like face masks and PPE sets, and they used digital platforms for financial transactions to access prevailing market prices and technical advice linked to crop management. While the market for these specific items may change over time, the women have developed some e-commerce skills and have combined private sector actor networking with their own sales in local markets, aiding overall sustainability into the future for these women entrepreneurs.

In Kuikel Thumka village, our work is largely focused on nature-based solutions with multiple adaptation and mitigation benefits, particularly for women. Here, we witnessed how women are upgrading their productive activities with increased access to climate and market information via mobile apps and SMS advisories and better networking with municipalities and government line departments. This has led to women’s growing leadership roles and decision making regarding farming, marketing of agricultural products, natural resource management, and financial investments and savings.

Women and climate action

Our vision for Nepal, and the HKH as an extension, is for women to become change agents for collective climate action. As custodians of natural resources, women are repositories of traditional knowledge on how life with changing, finite natural systems can co-exist, and how benefits from such natural resources can be equitably distributed.

Seeing how deeply interwoven gender and climate change are, we need to relieve the burdens on women, who are already feeling the disproportionate impacts of climate change. Women cannot be victims and champions in the same breath. Women should not be silent beneficiaries, but they cannot be fixers of all problems either. Women are and can be change agents, but we need targeted solutions that match their realities, and integrated policies and programmes that consider the intersections of gender and climate change. Only with the right environment and the proper incentives and capacity building can women really lead the charge for nature-based solutions, sustainable development, and effective climate action.

We are optimistic that this can happen and believe it important to amplify voices of mountain women through examples of their leadership in climate action. During the high-level Ministerial Mountain Summit, the eight HKH countries supported collective climate action and investments in climate adaptation, low carbon development pathways, and resilience building. This can help deliver nationally prioritized climate actions and scale up solutions at speed and space. And on the ground, we prioritize climate-adapted agricultural practices and nature-based solutions as adaptation measures. If we are to adapt to climate change, women will need to be at the heart of the climate-resilient solutions we promote across the HKH region.

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