Fe­male power

Delhi's slums need gen­der-sen­si­tive strate­gies to fight cli­mate change


Women can make the dif­fer­ence in the fight against cli­mate change in Delhi's slums

CLI­MATE CHANGE has a dis­as­trous im­pact on ur­ban in­fra­struc­tures and ser­vices. And Delhi cit­i­zens are no strangers to chal­lenges such as air pol­lu­tion and ur­ban flood­ing. The cap­i­tal has been mak­ing head­lines for the dan­ger­ously ris­ing air pol­lu­tion lev­els ever since a World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion (who) re­port in 2014 ranked it as one of the most pol­luted cities in the world. A 2014 United Na­tions re­port has also ranked Delhi among the top three most vul­ner­a­ble cities to floods.

This dan­ger­ous con­ver­gence of cli­mate change and modern cities poses big chal­lenges for cit­i­zens, es­pe­cially those liv­ing in slums. Among them, women face mul­ti­ple lay­ers of dis­crim­i­na­tion over ac­cess to ba­sic ser­vices and liveli­hoods. Draw­ing on these chal­lenges, it is per­ti­nent to ex­plore the im­por­tance of gen­der-sen­si­tive strate­gies to es­tab­lish cli­mate-re­silient slums in Delhi.

Poor, out of focus

who says ur­ban poor are the worst im­pacted by ris­ing air pol­lu­tion lev­els in Delhi. The In­ter­gov­ern­men­tal Panel on Cli­mate Change (ipcc) stresses that cities in the de­vel­op­ing world, and else­where, will be ad­versely af­fected by global warm­ing in­duced cli­mate dis­rup­tion, lead­ing to food and wa­ter short­ages, along with higher tem­per­a­tures due to “ur­ban heat is­land ef­fect”. Al­though the ru­ral pop­u­la­tion is in­creas­ingly mov­ing to cities for em­ploy­ment, slum dwellers face con­sid­er­able chal­lenges that are likely to in­crease in the con­text of wors­en­ing cli­mate im­pacts.

Since most slums are il­le­gal, res­i­dents have a slim chance of procur­ing ba­sic fa­cil­i­ties such as clean wa­ter and san­i­ta­tion, roads, en­ergy and pub­lic trans­port. Wa­ter short­ages, heat waves and floods trig­ger a chain re­ac­tion that af­fects other as­pects of their lives such as health, liveli­hoods and ca­pac­ity to with­stand cli­mate change im­pacts. How­ever, ex­ist­ing cli­mate poli­cies do not ad­dress the vul­ner­a­bil­ity and risks faced by slum dwellers, de­spite the fact that they com­prise 30 per cent of Delhi’s pop­u­la­tion.

The worse half

Of the vul­ner­a­ble pop­u­la­tions in slums, women con­tinue to ex­pe­ri­ence par­tic­u­lar hard­ships. Gen­der in­equal­i­ties per­me­ate struc­tures that de­ter­mine ac­cess to re­sources and other ba­sic ameni­ties such as health, wa­ter and san­i­ta­tion. These pre-ex­ist­ing in­equal­i­ties are ex­ac­er­bated by cli­mate-in­duced events putting them at a fur­ther dis­ad­van­ta­geous po­si­tion.

The link­ages be­tween gen­der and cli­mate change have been clearly es­tab­lished in re­cent years. Women face unique con­se­quences un­der the im­pact of cli­mate change in slums. “Lack of wa­ter/power and nec­es­sary re­sources, crowded pop­u­la­tion in lim­ited space, lack of hy­giene, and aware­ness con­trib­ute to de­plorable liv­ing con­di­tions in the slums. Girls and women from slums are of­ten sub­jected to gen­der-based vi­o­lence and other dan­gers quite reg­u­larly,” says Kalyani Raj of the All In­dia Women’s Con­fer­ence. “In such con­di­tions, the ur­ban slum dweller is hardly aware of any cli­mate-re­lated dis­as­ter pre­pared­ness—much less of re­silience. To them, al­most ev­ery day is a dis­as­ter—whether caused by hu­man or by na­ture,” adds Raj.

Pre­vail­ing grim con­di­tions in the slums force women to walk long dis­tances through poorly lit and garbage filled streets to use toi­lets. Do­mes­tic re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of­ten fall on women’s shoul­ders which in­volve or­gan­is­ing food and wa­ter for the fam­ily. These house­hold chores pre­vent girls from at­tend­ing schools reg­u­larly. These un­der­ly­ing dis­crim­i­na­tory fac­tors in­crease cli­mate-in­duced risks for women since they have nar­row ac­cess to rights and re­sources nec­es­sary to counter the im­pacts of cli­mate change.

What fur­ther re­duces women’s ca­pac­ity to cope with cli­mate change is the asym­me­try in wage, based on gen­der in ur­ban ar­eas. There­fore ap­proaches such as slum upgra­da­tion should have spe­cial focus on build­ing the ca­pac­ity of women and chil­dren. This will not only im­prove their qual­ity of life, but also strengthen their re­silience to cli­mate change.

Some ini­tia­tives have co­a­lesced ef­forts to bring to fore the gen­der di­men­sions of cli­mate change in cities, given that much of the focus till now has been in ru­ral ar­eas. Gen­derCC—Women for Cli­mate Jus­tice, a global net­work work­ing for cli­mate and gen­der jus­tice, has started an ini­tia­tive for the in­clu­sion of gen­der into cli­mate adap­ta­tion in some pi­lot cities in In­dia, South Africa and In­done­sia. The Gen­der into Ur­ban Cli­mate Change Ini­tia­tive seeks to es­tab­lish knowl­edge and ca­pac­ity among civil so­ci­ety and pol­i­cy­mak­ers to in­te­grate gen­der is­sues into cli­mate pol­icy. Against this back­ground, it is per­ti­nent to high­light how women in Delhi are con­verg­ing ef­forts to build re­silience against cli­matic im­pacts.

In slums like Bhal­swa and Bawana in Delhi, women’s groups have started to hold the gov­ern­ment ac­count­able for pro­vid­ing ba­sic ser­vices. Com­mu­nity-level par­tic­i­pa­tion of women has spurred more toi­let con­struc­tion as well as street lights in the ar­eas to en­sure women’s safety. The groups now or­gan­ise monthly meet­ings with the lo­cal coun­cil­lor to com­mu­ni­cate their needs and chal­lenges. This as­pect re­flects a change in women’s level of par­tic­i­pa­tion in pub­lic di­a­logue. Their in­volve­ment in ma­jor is­sues such as clean wa­ter, waste man­age­ment, af­ford­able hous­ing and land rights can go a long way in de­vel­op­ing cli­mate-ori­ented solutions in slums.

Women de­vise solutions that are cli­mate re­silient and propoor. Pol­li­nate En­ergy, a so­cial ini­tia­tive op­er­at­ing in the slums of Bengaluru, have or­gan­ised women’s groups that have opted for cleaner en­ergy such as so­lar. The shift has helped the fam­i­lies in two ways—so­lar power is cheaper and cleaner than kerosene lamps. Re­duc­tion in the gap to ac­cess cli­mate vi­able tech­nolo­gies can act as a spring­board to cli­mate re­silience even in Delhi slums.

Bi­jal Brahmb­hatt, di­rec­tor Mahila Hous­ing sewa Trust, says cli­matic events such as heat waves and wa­ter cri­sis, though not con­sid­ered as ex­treme as floods and earth­quakes, ex­ert tremen­dous pres­sure on the life and liveli­hoods of ur­ban poor, es­pe­cially women. Her or­gan­i­sa­tion pro­vides lo­calised tech­ni­cal as­sis­tance to women’s groups. For ex­am­ple, it as­sisted women from the slums of Od­hav in Ahmed­abad to make roofs formed of biodegrad­able poly­mer that help sig­nif­i­cantly re­duce tem­per­a­ture dur­ing sum­mers. Low car­bon devel­op­ment prac­tices in the realm of light­ing and cook­ing are rel­e­vant to Delhi slums. To re­alise this as­pect, adap­ta­tion fi­nanc­ing and strong in­sti­tu­tional struc­tures are cru­cial. “Women can save up money much bet­ter than men in the in­for­mal set­tle­ments. They are also weav­ing in­no­va­tive solutions against cli­mate change, but the funds are not ear­marked to en­hance their adap­ta­tion strate­gies,” says Lisa Jung­hans from Ger­man­watch e.V, a global net­work that pro­motes north-south eq­uity.

Cli­mate change pushes in­equity

Cli­mate change gives rise to in­equities that make those who are al­ready vul­ner­a­ble slip fur­ther into poverty. En­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivist Van­dana Shiva claims that the ex­ist­ing pa­tri­ar­chal na­ture of the In­dian so­ci­ety si­lences women’s voices in cli­mate solutions. How­ever, she stresses the fact that women’s par­tic­i­pa­tion re­mains a fun­da­men­tal com­po­nent in strength­en­ing adap­ta­tion strate­gies to cli­mate change. Gen­der equal­ity and sus­tain­able ur­ban­i­sa­tion go hand in hand, as the Gen­der into Ur­ban Cli­mate Change Ini­tia­tive seeks to demon­strate. In mega-cities, mo­bil­is­ing women into de­ci­sion mak­ing and de­vel­op­ing en­vi­ron­men­tally sus­tain­able prac­tices can bear a di­rect out­come on im­prov­ing liv­ing con­di­tions in slums. Equip­ping women to face cli­mate risks will help build long-term re­silience and change and max­imise women’s voices in de­ci­sion-mak­ing at the com­mu­nity as well as house­hold level.

Women can save money much bet­ter than men in the in­for­mal set­tle­ments. They can also weave in­no­va­tive solutions against cli­mate change, but the funds are not ear­marked to en­hance their adap­ta­tion strate­gies

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