Gender specific vulnerabilities and opportunities in flood prone communities through intersectionality lens

बुधवार, मार्च 8, 2023

8th March 2023

Krity Shrestha, Bikram Rana and Dr. Dharam Raj Uprety, Practical Action

What is intersectionality?

A community isn’t homogenous- there are diverse groups, subgroups, and fractions within communities- based on multiple factors that result in their differential (socio-economic) status, access to power and ability to practice their basic rights or express their needs. These factors may be gender, sex, caste, race, ethnicity, class, religion, disability, etc. Based on the interaction of these complex factors- a group or an individual will identify themselves as different from others. These differences in identities are termed as intersectionality. “Intersectionality” is an analytical framework for understanding how aspects of a person’s social and political identities combine to create different modes of discrimination and privilege. Intersectionality identifies multiple factors of advantage and disadvantage. (Runyan et al, 2018).

A woman standing by her flooded house. Credits: Bipana Tharu, CSDR

Gender specific vulnerabilities and opportunities to climate change

Emerging research indicates that vulnerabilities related to climate change and its impacts on communities are gendered. Any form of change including climatic variability is likely to disparately impact the lives of women and men belonging to different wealth, age and status groups, potentially enhancing, though in different ways, the risks and vulnerabilities they face.

Rao et al argue that in the process, gender relations and the organization of social reproduction are likely to change, though the direction of change is not necessarily predictable. In some instances, women’s position and capacity to bargain may be strengthened, in others, already existing gender inequalities may get further intensified. (Rao et al, 2017)

The flood prone communities of Nepal have largely witnessed massive male migration. Male members in these communities migrate to bigger cities or other countries, in search of better income, some because of negative coping strategies to meet expenses of losses and damages due to floods. Women in these households have thus been leveraged to de- facto head of households. This has created opportunities for women to lead their household and community towards flood resilience with more access to political and socio-economic engagement.

Karuna Chaudhary from Chakkhapur is one such inspiring example. She was proposed as Community Disaster Management Committee chairperson of her community, when no men were available or interested to lead newly formed CDMC. She has inspired many other girls and women from her communities with her leadership, social service and is well regarded by her municipality for leading her community towards flood resilience.

File photo of Karuna Chaudhary. Credit: Practical Action

Climate change induced disasters and intersectionality

Climate change refers to a change in the climate that persists for decades or longer, arising from either natural causes or human activity. Climate change is already modifying the frequency and intensity of many weather-related hazards as well as steadily increasing the vulnerability and eroding the resilience of exposed populations that depend arable land, access to water, and stable mean temperatures and rainfall (UNDRR, 2023).

The number of weather, climate and water extremes are increasing and will become more frequent and severe in many parts of the world because of climate change. This means more water vapour in the atmosphere has exacerbated extreme rainfall and flooding, and the warming oceans have affected the frequency and extent of most intense storms and floods. (WMO, 2021).

IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) noted in its special report on extremes, it is increasingly clear that climate change “has detectably influenced” several of the water-related variables that contribute to floods, such as rainfall and snowmelt. In other words, while our warming world may not induce floods directly, it exacerbates many of the factors that do (IPCC, 2018).

Exposure and vulnerability are key determinants of disaster risk and of impacts when risk is realized. Individuals and communities are differentially exposed and vulnerable based on inequalities expressed through levels of wealth and education, disability, and health status, as well as gender, age, class, and other social and cultural characteristics. (IPCC, 2012)

Integrating intersectionality in climate resilience building

Capacities and vulnerabilities to deal with hazards also vary significantly. A disabled woman belonging to indigenous ethnicity and ultra-poor small holder farming household may be impacted more than her neighbour-when he is an abled man, belonging to upper class big land-owning family and have diversified sources of income- when flood occurs in the community. The abled man will be able to evacuate swiftly, save his resources from inundation, have consistent source of income and savings due to diversification and may enjoy better political access and support than his neighbour.

Intersectionality lens, therefore, provides a completer and more honest picture of the multiple factors that shape people’s everyday lives. (Jackson, 2022) In addition, when we can understand how different people are impacted differently- we will be able to propose tailored methods to reduce their risks and improve their resilience.

Unpacking ways to integrate intersectionality to climate resilience

In December, Climate and Development dialogue (C and D dialogue) hosted a national conference on “Gender Just Climate Solutions in Nepal”. Practical Action through Tomorrow Cities and Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance led a session on understanding gender intersectionality to address climate change vulnerability.

The session focused on unpacking intersectionality, were our partners shared about various steps and efforts that, we are putting through Flood Resilience Measurement for Communities (FRMC) in resilience building program, local level planning and implementation at the ground to address intersectionality.  The session concluded with agreement that intersectionality is a complex issue, which must be addressed for effective and inclusive program planning and implementation.

Photo from the C and D dialogue. Credits: PRC.

The session agreed that gender mainstreaming and incorporating intersectionality is taking positive direction, in resilience building programs but more efforts to needed to make it effective in practice.  There is no doubt, that these keywords are being spelled out in most of the policy and program. However, in practice it is largely tokenistic and limited to women participation only. The programs at community level, comparatively have been able to aware and engage women – but more engagement in strategic, decision-making levels is missing. The session concluded and suggested following key steps to be incorporated in resilience building based on Practical Action led FRMC work and resilience building in southern Nepal as well as learning from urban floods management in Kathmandu

1. The first step to address gendered vulnerability and use intersectionality lens would be to create awareness how intersectionality affects society- that starts with community members accepting their multiple identities and their diverse needs. Many individuals are not aware on the multiple facets of their identities- how their being indigenous, differently abled can add more to the already existing gendered vulnerabilities. It is of paramount importance that community members living in these flood prone areas are aware of their intersectionality. It is also necessary that they understand how intersectionality affect power dynamics in a community.

2. The second step is to collect disaggregated data- SAD data, that can reflect intersectional identities, needs, and generate evidence that differential people have different needs that needs to be met for effective climate resilience building.  Darby et al (2022) mentions reliable, consistent, and disaggregated data is essential to inform decision-making and enable well-targeted investments. Without disaggregated data, we cannot track if interventions are improving lives. Interventions that do not explicitly consider SAD data are more likely to increase the marginalization of vulnerable people, for example elderly women or children with disabilities. Institutionalizing the systematic collection, use, and reporting of disaggregated data, including SAD data, is a useful starting point to help us target our actions to improve vulnerable people’s resilience to climate hazards. It supports us in leveraging their voice, agency, and leadership in resilience interventions. It is important to remember that vulnerable people – such as the elderly or people with disabilities – are not homogenous groups and have different degrees of vulnerability or resilience to floods. (ZFRA, 2022)

3. Based on the data and qualitative information, we need to formulate programs and policies that address contextual needs and demands of various sections of community and marginalized groups, while reducing climate induced disaster risks and building climate resilience. Such evidence-based policy and programming will prove to be more tailored to make development efforts more inclusive. It is important, that accurate indicators are set that ensures incorporation of intersectionality lens and gendered approaches from the planning of programs or policy and has areas to incorporate learnings and improvements.

4. Proper investment is also needed in terms of developing capacity and creating opportunities for marginalized and vulnerable groups based on their needs, so that they can be engaged in decision making roles and not just as recipient of resilience development but changemakers.  Stakeholders at all levels also lack capacity to understand about the benefits of using intersectionality lens, hence efforts for capacity building at all levels is crucial to create enabling environment for systemic change in terms of effectively adopting intersectionality lens.

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