Changing mindsets matters in a changing climate

Three woman are sitting outside in a community in Nepal as they listen to Ambika Yadav. They are wearing masks.

 

Breaking the bias and barriers for equality and diversity in finding solutions for climate resilient WASH

Insights from Jose Mott, Water for Women Gender and Social Inclusion Specialist

 

Here we are in 2022.

Two years of COVID-19, along with decades of increasing extreme weather events and climate-related stresses across the world. It is easy to be overwhelmed by the many challenges that lay before us. But there is hope.

Today on International Women’s Day we pause to reflect on what really matters in addressing these global challenges – women’s leadership (and supporting their leadership) for a climate-resilient future.

The recently released UN 2022 climate impacts report emphasises the increased stresses we will see on health, water and sanitation services and how these will impact heavily on local communities across the globe. We know that ‘natural’ disasters, such as floods and droughts, are occurring with greater frequency and severity. We know these disasters have far more devastating impacts on poorer communities; their water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), their food security and their health. As the report notes, these disasters have resulted in a 15 times higher mortality rate in ‘vulnerable’ countries compared to non-vulnerable countries.

We also know that women and girls are disproportionately impacted by climate change and its dire consequences (decreased access to clean water and sanitation, increased gender-based violence and increased rates of child marriage to name just a few). We often refer to women and girls as ‘vulnerable’ because of this, which tends to dilute what’s at the heart of these disproportionate climate impacts: systemic gender inequalities at political, social and economic levels, which intersect with other areas of social inequalities, such as disability, gender identity, sexual orientation, class, age and ethnicity.

But it also misses the mark on another level. In spite of being under-represented at all levels of formal decision-making processes due to entrenched patriarchal systems, biases and norms, women (especially indigenous women and women in the global south) are leading frontline climate action and activism.

This is why women’s leadership is critical to climate action. In spite of great cost to their health and wellbeing and the significant barriers they have to confront, they recognise what is at risk if they don’t act. We see and read about so many examples of leadership by women in all their diversities - but solely looking through the lens of ‘vulnerability’, we can run the risk of unintentionally masking this resilience and courage.

Water for Women partners are supporting the leadership and empowerment of women, including those with disabilities, to work towards climate-resilient WASH in diverse contexts: running sanitation supply businesses in Cambodia, masonry skills development in Bhutan, as leaders on WASH committees in Pakistan and Timor-Leste, water quality testing in India, running micro-enterprises for making period products in Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu. These are just some of the many compelling examples from our projects.

But the barriers to gender equality and women’s leadership are many. Overcoming them in safe ways that do not lead to backlash or further burdens depends on shifting systemic biases that see women’s roles and work as mainly domestic, care-focused and/or voluntary.

Water for Women partners strive to address these barriers by working towards changing mindsets in their WASH programs. Examples include: engaging men and boys in dialogue around household chores in Bangladesh, working with husbands to support women’s skills development as entrepreneurs in Cambodia, having gender dialogue discussions in communities in Timor-Leste, developing awareness on gender-based violence issues in Timor-Leste and PNG, and supporting LGBTIQ+ advocacy and leadership in India.

 

Technical solutions for climate resilience are critical, but so are our values for “a future in which we can thrive together”


(Katharine K. Wilkinson, a co-editor of the climate anthology “All We Can Save”)

 

Strengthening opportunities for diverse voices and leadership, as well as more equitable decision-making processes is central to strengthening WASH services and systems that are future-proofed for climate resilience. In short, more women and diverse people need to be at the table informing and influencing decisions. Without their voices at the table, it won’t happen!

Water for Women partners have a strong commitment to this through building reciprocal partnerships with rights-based organisations to ensure their voices are heard in WASH processes and systems and to amplify their rights agenda more generally, as well as supporting investments in capacity building for strengthening gender equality and social inclusion at community, organisational and institutional levels.

These efforts all work towards shaping a tomorrow that is more equal, more resilient, and more sustainable.

Now that’s a ‘table’ I am sure we would all like to sit at!

 


 

Photo: Ambika Yadav (right) for inclusive COVID-19 and WASH responses that transform lives (SNV Nepal / Meeting Point)

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