Mountain women on the climate frontlines

Women in a Nepali village become change agents to adapt to the impact of the climate crisis


Climate change impacts all of us, but this burden is not evenly spread out. Our experiences, our privileges, our support systems, our ability to cope – these dictate how the very real consequences of today’s climate crisis impact us.

We know that women face exclusion and unequal burdens. Their access to resources, rights, assets, and power remains fettered. Climate change only deepens these inequalities – manifold.

Take the women from the Hindu Kush Himalaya region, which straddles eight countries and is one of the poorest and most neglected regions in the world. Women here have had to contend with men migrating in search of employment by shouldering more responsibilities: welfare and community work, agricultural labour, and natural resource use and management, among many other duties.

To add to this feminisation of responsibilities, women from the Himalaya have had to navigate through climate change-related uncertainty and hardships. Climate change impacts are felt more severely and rapidly in these mountains than anywhere else.

These disruptions to lives and livelihoods are very real and very serious. Domestic drudgery is compounded by climate change, which leaves little room for growth and other opportunities. And Himalayan women farmers have to deal with growing water scarcity, unpredictable and extreme weather events, falling productivity, and poor access to financial resources and market linkages. They also have to carve out alternative sources of livelihoods as traditional subsistence becomes harder by the day.

As farmers, as entrepreneurs, as caretakers, and in the host of other roles thrust upon them, women now have to adapt to these disruptions of climate change. We can learn a great deal from the important contributions and adaptations women make towards climate action.

Read more: How the climate crisis adds to child marriage in Nepal, Sonam Lama

Recognising this, the Government of Norway and ICIMOD have been working together with Nepal’s women to address the sharp gendered inequalities in climate change adaptation. We recently visited different municipalities in Kavre district where we have been piloting a package of solutions that are gender responsive, simple, and affordable. We were inspired by how women are leading the way with innovative, climate-resilient solutions and approaches.

Women are at the forefront of climate change impacts, and in Kavre they have been active and effective agents and promoters of adaptation and mitigation. For instance, we are working to develop a green, resilient, and inclusive entrepreneurial ecosystem for economic and environmental sustainability in Khawa village.

Women’s groups have formed a home-based enterprise that processes milk and sells value-added dairy products at local markets in and around the Kathmandu Valley. Although the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted the supply chain, these women’s groups worked with government line agencies and the private sector to get back on track.

During the pandemic, we also trained women entrepreneurs in Khawa to produce off-farm products like face masks and PPE sets, and they used digital platforms for financial transactions to access prevailing market prices and technical advice linked to crop management. While the market for these specific items may change over time, the women have developed some e-commerce skills and have combined private sector actor networking with their own sales in local markets, aiding overall sustainability into the future for these women entrepreneurs.

In Kuikel Thumka village, our work is largely focused on nature-based solutions and we witnessed how women have increased access to climate and market information via mobile apps and SMS advisories and better networking with municipalities and government line departments. This has led to women’s growing leadership roles and decision making regarding farming, marketing of agricultural products, natural resource management, and financial investments and savings.

Our vision for Nepal, and the Himalaya-Hindu Kush region, is for women to become change agents for collective climate action. As custodians of natural resources, women are repositories of traditional knowledge on how life with changing, finite natural systems can co-exist, and how benefits from such natural resources can be equitably distributed.

Read more: Nepali women doubly burdened by climate change, Sewa Bhattarai

Seeing how deeply interwoven gender and climate change are, we need to relieve the burden on women who are already feeling its disproportionate impact. Women cannot be victims and champions at the same time. Women should not be silent beneficiaries, but they cannot be fixers of all problems either.

Women are and can be change agents, but we need targeted solutions that match their realities, and integrated policies and programmes that consider the intersections of gender and climate change. Only with the right environment and the proper incentives and capacity building can women really lead the charge for nature-based solutions, sustainable development, and effective climate action.

We are optimistic that this can happen and believe it is important to amplify voices of mountain women through examples of their leadership in climate action. During the high-level Ministerial Mountain Summit, the eight Himalaya-Hindu Kush countries supported collective climate action and investments in climate adaptation, low carbon development pathways, and resilience building.

This can help deliver nationally prioritised climate action and scale up solutions at speed and space. On the ground, we emphasise climate-adapted agricultural practices and nature-based solutions.

If we are to adapt to climate change, women will need to be at the heart of the climate-resilient solutions we promote across the Himalaya.

Torun Dramdal is the Norwegian Ambassador to Nepal, and Pema Gyamtsho is the Director General of the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development

Read also: Women moving Nepal’s climate activism, Sewa  Bhattarai 

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