NEW DELHI: From scorching heatwaves to erratic rainfall patterns, climate change is wreaking havoc on India’s rural communities. While the entire population feels the pinch, the impact falls disproportionately on women, particularly those heavily reliant on agriculture and natural resources for survival.

Scorching Divide: How extreme heat inflames gender inequalities in health and income report released by Arsht–Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center (Arsht-Rock) revealed that in India, women lose 41 minutes per day, increasing to 47 minutes in an extreme heat year.

A changing climate presents several challenges, and these challenges exacerbate existing social inequalities, placing a disproportionate burden on their shoulders.

“Climate change significantly impacts the health of women in rural areas across multiple dimensions, but comprehensive research that unpacks these health impacts is currently lacking,” says Nityananda Dhal, PRADAN (A member of ClimateRISE Alliance), working with rural communities.

Nityananda explains the ripple effect of climate change, “However, with our experience of working with the rural women of India, we have observed that with the increased feminization of agriculture and men migrating to have extra income due to volatile income from agriculture as an impact of climate change, women are exposed to the harsh climate conditions. They face the double burden of managing household chores and managing farms and livestock. Managing this in increased heat and erratic climate conditions manifests in the physical body in the form of body aches, heat strokes, irregular menstrual cycle, and also psychological challenges like depression, anxiety, and stress.”

Heat exhaustion can lead to fatigue and decreased productivity, impacting women’s ability to complete daily tasks and worsening their existing health conditions. Furthermore, climate change disrupts traditional food sources.

Nityananda explains how earlier women were able to rely on forests for highly nutritious uncultivated foods which provided them with much-needed nutrition. With increased deforestation, land degradation, and climate change, the availability of such food has become non-existent and has impacted their nutritional intake, increasing the incidence of malnutrition, low BMI, and anemia. These pressures compounded with women’s role of being sole providers of food for their families have extremely adverse impacts on their overall health.

To empower women, a gender-sensitive approach is essential. Policies need to prioritize women’s access to land, water management training, and climate-resilient agricultural technologies. Investing in women’s education and leadership development will equip them to navigate a changing environment.


By ramshaw

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