Women’s Empowerment at the Frontline of Adaptation

Executive Summary

Women are a driving force for rural development in Nepal. Agriculture dominates Nepal’s economy and is the main livelihood strategy for two-thirds of its population. It is also the main source of livelihood for 78% of all women in Nepal. In areas where most of the economically active Nepali men migrate in search of employment opportunities, women have become the backbone of rural development, providing most of the labour inputs. However, Nepal is one of the countries most vulnerable to climate risks and is characterized by high levels of poverty, high population density, and high exposure to climate-related events. Climate change is threatening the livelihoods of those directly dependent on agriculture and the natural resource base. Rural women are disproportionately vulnerable to the impacts of climate change due to their socially constructed roles and responsibilities and relatively poor economic and social positions. There is a major knowledge gap in relation to the impact of multiple drivers of change on women in Nepal and women’s role in adaptation to climate change and managing natural resources. This lack of knowledge often translates into policies and practices that perpetuate unequal access to various resources and women’s marginalization from development processes, policymaking, and initiatives. This scoping study addresses this gap and identifies differences in impact and adaptive capacity between and among women and men. It also identifies appropriate and sustainable adaptation strategies to ensure equitable access to resources, rights, and opportunities for marginalized, minority, and indigenous people. The study’s findings are the result of extensive stakeholder consultations at the district and national levels, involving grassroots women leaders, international non-governmental organizations (INGOs), national-level government and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and district-level NGOs. The findings of the study reveal that, across Nepal, there has been an increase in rural women’s workload rendering multiple effects on women’s health, income, safety, nutrition, violence against women and ultimately on women’s social, economic and political empowerment. Variability in water availability has negatively affected women’s livelihoods. The hardening of agricultural soils and the emergence of new pests and crop diseases, all widely observed, are increasing women’s workloads, forcing them to spend long hours tilling the land and weeding fields. The decrease in overall productivity with reduced diversity in crop and food intake has presented a unique challenge to women as ‘food managers’ of their households. Challenges to agro-based micro enterprises run by women’s collectives due to decline in agricultural production and decline in income from women-managed and controlled high-value crops (‘pewa’ crops) has affected women’s economic independence. Climate-induced changes in forests and biodiversity, including the emergence of invasive species, are leading to a loss of household income and livelihood options, especially for women and people from poor, indigenous, and marginalized communities, such as the Chepang and Dalits. The decrease in water availability as a result of climate change has increased the distance covered and time needed to collect water and worsened hygiene and sanitation for women. It has also led to greater humiliation and further exclusion of women from low and so-called ‘backward’ castes in accessing water facilities. Contestation over water for irrigation has marginalized women farmers. Years of positive improvements in women’s empowerment in Nepal, vital for the success of rural development, is being threatened by these changes. Due to increased workload, drudgery, and time constraints, women are being alienated from vital adaptive knowledge and unable to grab opportunities to improve their knowledge and skills. There is a declining trend in the achievements of rural women achieved through collective power of organized groups. Climate change programmes and policies often tend to present women as victims rather than as key actors in adaptation. This has increased the gap in power relations between men and women and further reinforced women’s exclusion from participation in resource governing and decision making bodies. However, across Nepal there are also positive signs of adaptation processes in action. Measures are being undertaken by individuals and organizations to reduce their vulnerability to climate change impacts, such as those


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