Women’s Empowerment at the Frontline of Adaptation

Of course the outcome of any adaptation action in itself affects agency and its determinants. Adaptation outcomes occur in an overarching geographical, politico-economic, and cultural (caste, caste, religion, ethnicity, gender regimes) context and among complexity (the outermost parameters that shape adaptation). The HKH is an extensive geographical region that extends from Afghanistan in the west through Pakistan, China, India, Nepal, Bhutan, and Bangladesh, to Myanmar in the east – eight sovereign countries with diverse political and economic systems. The region has been marred by geopolitical tensions, cross-border as well internal conflicts, and war. Given the broad range of agroclimatic and ecological zones and production systems found in this region, the HKH houses some of the world’s richest biological and socio-cultural diversity. The drivers of change, which include climate change and variability as well as non-climatic change, have been unfolding in the HKH region for a very long time. These drivers of change are so diverse and dynamic that they are reconfiguring people’s relationships with one another, within and across households and communities, as well as within and among institutions, states, and macro agencies. Processes of globalization and regionalization are connecting local markets to global markets and reconfiguring economic relations, interactions, and dependencies. Populations are growing; people are moving, voluntarily and involuntarily; and infrastructural development, industrialization, and urbanization are creating an increasingly built environment. Together these myriad drivers of change are reshaping land use dynamics, changing resource bases, and, in some instances, rendering local knowledge systems obsolete while giving rise to new bodies of information, creating new livelihood systems, and setting in motion new patterns of consumption and acquisition, mindsets, and values. Among the key gender relations are power differentials within and between households and between decision- making entities at the community and district levels which determines who has access to, and control over, resources (particularly land and finances) as well as division of labour (for example, who takes the responsibility for securing water or whose crops are covered under index-based crop insurance schemes are determined by gendered division of labour and access to resources). These power differentials have the potential to perpetuate vulnerabilities to climate change and determine who has a voice in governance issues. The central component of ‘agency’ determines who, when, where, and how men and women of different ages, classes, castes, ethnicities, religions and other differences are able to negotiate the benefits and harms that result from the intersection of drivers of change and gendered relations. In other words, agency means how well individuals and communities are able to navigate the balance between vulnerability and resilience, when they can take advantage of an opportunity, and under what conditions they are likely to get caught in a trap. For example, women possess valuable knowledge about natural resources and, when given the opportunity, can give valuable input into adaptation strategies. However, to what extent they are able to do so depends on the process of validation of local knowledge that determines what power is exercised, by whom, and over whom (especially through gender, but also other categories that represent intersecting inequalities) and to what extent women are able to use strategies such as negotiation, contestation, or resistance in decision-making processes. At the same time, there is also a pressing need to take into account the changing contexts of women’s lives (determined by various drivers of change) and how these changes are reconfiguring the relevance of their knowledge systems and their relations (and commitments) to their resource bases. Particularly in the HKH where infrastructural development has brought remote areas and communities into contact with a very different outside world, it is important to understand the dynamics between customary institutions, community initiatives, and government institutions and how these are redefining women’s involvement at different levels. The dynamic interplay of shifting local and global contexts, as well as changes in social, economic, ecological, political, and institutional dynamics, governs adaptive capacity and consequently, determines which adaptation options are available and acted upon and by whom, who benefits from these actions, and who is disadvantaged. This study focuses on the interplay between drivers of change and gender relations and examines how this interaction transforms women’s empowerment, which directly affects their adaptive capacity. The key assumption of the study is that, while climate change impacts on the material conditions and social position of women, their


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