Women’s Empowerment at the Frontline of Adaptation

Introduction The HKH region (see map below) is undergoing rapid climatic and environmental change, which is adversely affecting glacier melting and environmental resources in ways that threaten the vast water reservoirs that serve over 200 million people in the mountains and over one billion people downstream (Benfield 2010). Livelihoods in this region are very sensitive to environmental, social, cultural, economic, and other change. These changes are already affecting the natural resource base and threatening the livelihoods of those directly or indirectly dependent on natural resources (Eriksson et al. 2009). While there is an urgent need to support the women, men, and children of the HKH to manage these changes so they can maximize benefits and minimize risks, it needs to be done with a strong gender perspective, using gender analysis and empowerment approaches (Aguilar 2009; WHO 2011). Worldwide, women are disproportionally vulnerable to the impacts of climate change due to their socially-constructed roles and responsibilities and relatively poor economic and social positions (Bernstein 2007). This is also true for mountain women in the HKH region. Yet, despite this vulnerability, women are also the primary users, managers, and custodians of natural resources – especially in places where there is high male out-migration for work (Kaspar 2005). As women play a vital role in the conservation of mountain biodiversity and natural resource management, it is essential that women’s knowledge systems and the constraints that women face in effectively carrying out their roles as producers and managers are well understood. This is even more necessary in light of the growing challenges posed by climate change-related impacts. Sustainable mountain development must ensure the full and equitable participation of mountain women, men, and children in development initiatives (ICIMOD 2010). Currently, there is a major knowledge gap in relation to the impact of multiple drivers of change on women and women’s role in adaptation to climate change and the management of natural resources. This lack of knowledge often translates into policies and practices that perpetuate unequal access to resources and women’s marginalization from development processes, policy making, and initiatives (Leduc et al. 2008; Sterrit 2011).

Hindu Kush Himalayan Region

Amu Darya















Salween Myanmar

Downstream river basins Hindu Kush Himalayan region



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