Climate Change has added additional burdens on women workers
India, 17 Sep 2022: The impact of climate change and its mitigation or adaptation measures that exclude women in decision-making and overlook their specific needs can compound the challenges to achieving gender equality in the world of work. This, in turn, also poses a significant challenge to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
Cooch Behar, a border district between India and Bangladesh, is experiencing extreme weather events, including frequent storms, floods, and irregular rains coupled with a very hot and humid atmosphere. Climate change poses a severe threat to the lives of informal workers, particularly women workers. Agricultural women workers, bidi workers and home-based workers lose productive hours and experience increased forced labour migration and joblessness. Increased climate variability makes agriculture more unpredictable and displaces millions of people from villages to cities. Rural women face the brunt as they are often dependent on natural resources for their livelihoods, do most of the agricultural work, and are responsible for collecting water and fuel. The impact of climate change and actions that exclude women may exacerbate the range of obstacles and socio-economic vulnerabilities that characterise decent work deficits for women.
For the past 10 years, ActionAid Association (AAA) has been working closely with women groups of the district and engaging with tea plantation workers of the neighbouring communities. In the spirit of solidarity, a convention on the theme of “Climate Change, Gender and Labour” was planned in the Dinhata block of Cooch Behar on Thursday, September 15th 2022, in collaboration with Gitaldaha Bikas Samity (GBS), a grassroots civil society organisation active in the area, and Pramila Bahini, a local women’s collective, both of which work to address gender-based violence and women’s right to property. The convention was organised to initiate a dialogue on women workers’ ongoing struggle for improved wages, working conditions, dignity and social security in the context of climate change.
More than 800 women workers from three districts and diverse informal occupational sectors participated in the convention. Eight women representatives spoke on various issues and recommended alternatives based on community and collective power. Delegates expressed solidarity with the women workers’ struggle and encouraged them to speak out.
Lily Oraon from the tea garden of Kalchini block, Alipurduar district, said, “During rainy and massive heat, we have to pluck tea leaves without any shed or umbrella. We don’t get the full payment if we can’t pluck the specified amount. So workers are compelled to leave the garden and change jobs.
Moni Tudu, an MGNREGA worker, shared, ” Climatic impact is huge in our profession. During rain, we can’t work much, so we lose workdays. We need at least 200 days’ work with a decent wage rate. Gender-sensitive work should be given to the women MGNREGA workers.”
Women workers from different fronts delineated equality, freedom, and interdependence on nature and rights as priority issues for their livelihood. They highlighted critical indigenous and local practices co-existing with the ecosystem and promoting a sustainable environment. The women advocated for climate change solutions linked to decent wages, better working conditions and universal social security, preventing forced migration and displacement and improving their livelihoods.
Celebrating the agency and ongoing struggle of women workers to achieve decent wages, wage parity, dignified social security and freedom from any form of discrimination, Sandeep Chachra, Executive Director, said, “The climate crisis has added a third dimension to women workers’ struggle for justice – to ensure recognition and compensation for the loss and damage suffered by them in the world of work and to their homes and habitats. Not only does climate change differentially impact women workers, but several times the burden and costs of climate response action falls onto them, differentially, and just transitions must begin with acknowledging, recognising and compensating the workers for the damage they have suffered and continue to suffer. ActionAid Association is honoured to work with women workers in their quest for a just and equal world.”