Women Are Key to Conservation

Source: Newsweek

4 Jan 2011 - In early December, nations met for another round of climate talks in Cancún, Mexico, where a joint initiative was launched to make women more integral to the process known by the acronym REDD, which aims to compensate developing countries for protecting forests. NEWSWEEK’s Katie Baker and Tania Barnes spoke with noted Indian economist Bina Agarwal on how women are central to global conservation efforts. Excerpts:

How are women in India and other developing countries susceptible to climate change?
Climate change is likely to adversely affect the poor in many ways, including threatening their livelihoods, food security, water supplies, and health. Women in poor households are especially vulnerable on all these counts, with few resources for adaptation. On food production, for instance, South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa are expected to be especially hard hit. Here women’s livelihoods could be markedly threatened, since they are much more dependent on agriculture than men, who have shifted in larger proportions to nonfarm jobs. Also, in India women often eat last and least, and their nutrition and that of breast-fed children could be affected severely under food scarcity.

How can empowering local women help address environmental problems such as deforestation?
Rural women depend on forests and local commons for many items of daily use, such as firewood and fodder. About 65 percent of rural households in India and 90 percent in Nepal use firewood as the main cooking fuel, and most of it is gathered. Hence the costs of deforestation are borne especially by women. They thus have the most to gain from forest regeneration, but they also have to extract firewood, without which they cannot cook. This means that they face conflicting choices between immediate and future needs. Therein lies the complexity. Here women would feel empowered if they had access to alternative sources of clean cooking fuel as well as greater say in forest use.

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