What's with the Climate?

Voices of a Subcontinent grappling with Climate Change

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High Heels

Chhaya Vani Namchu 

“Can the subaltern speak?”

Many years ago, I read this essay by Gayatri Spivak as part of my undergraduate syllabus. I cannot recollect too much detail about it now, but 7-8 years down the line, what has stuck with me through the years is its title.

Today, I work as a researcher on climate change and its impacts on mountain communities, and specifically women in these communities. Sometimes I feel the pressure to provide academic and statistical information which I feel, although fair to research, reduces the people I interview to data and objects. But work is work and I understand that even my research will eventually help communities in the long term (I hope).

When carrying out fieldwork in my study site, I come across stories which may be considered too simple for the academic discourse, but which can be thought provoking nonetheless. One of my field sites in Kalimpong, a beautiful community village, is affected by erratic rainfall that leads to massive landslides and floods that eventually end up blocking communities during monsoons, effects that can in part be attributed to climate change.

Predominantly a Lepcha village, the route to this village is through chor batos. The village has no infrastructure and has several streams that need to be crossed through bridges constructed using locally available bamboo by the local residents. There are about 3-5 such bridges. I visited the village in the dry season when there was no water, rain or flooding.

The indigenous communities of the mountains are very resilient and independent, as opposed to the larger perception (and rightly so) around them facing hardships such as commuting, accessing drinking water, walking hours through rough terrain to get to the nearest school, etc. It’s true that these communities are marginalized, economically as well as educationally, and face multiple hardships, but this is only one side to them. They undertake many initiatives by themselves that involve working together as a community, and aren’t the (usually expected) rescue projects.

Coming back to my field trip to this village. I had set out with an agenda as part of my job to interview and draw information on the changes in the climate experienced by the indigenous Lepcha women through questions such as:

  • What variations in temperature and rainfall have you noticed?
  • How has it changed your cropping pattern?
  • What are the challenges faced during monsoons?
  • Have you noticed other climatic changes?

And so on..

On one such day after I got done with the more formal interview, and as I was retiring my notebook to my bag and getting ready to leave, I got into an informal chat with these women. We discussed the weather, the village, and the walk back to town. Small talk. I shared my fear of shaky wobbly bridges with them while dreading the journey that lay ahead of me. And just then, a woman well into her forties, who was also very vocal in my group discussion, spoke in agreement with me. Her solidarity with my fear was heartening mostly because of the story she narrated next, and the jolly-as-ever casual tone that she took.bridge

She said that the bridge indeed made life very uncomfortable for them. Sometime back, she set out on her way to the weekly Saturday market to Kalimpong town, wearing a pair of high heels as she usually does. As she was crossing the bamboo bridges, her heel got stuck between two bamboo logs. She added, in between bouts of laughter, that she was extremely embarrassed. There she was, all dressed up, sitting on the bridge, trying to get her heels out of the space in between the bamboo logs. Even though she didn’t want to be seen by anyone in that rather hilarious situation, she found it extremely funny herself. Just a minor glitch in the mundane order of the day.

This incident was very interesting to me. Most of us would wear trekking shoes and trekking clothes to visit such areas. But what is trekking and hiking to us is their daily route and daily life. The above narrative shows that this life is as normal to them as is dressing up to catch drinks at Hauz Khas village for so many of us city people. And although places like these require help in policies and infrastructure, I hope that in the discourse on Mountains, the resilient women are not treated as rescue projects alone.

This brings me back to Spivak’s- Can the subaltern speak?- that communities and especially women are not subaltern objects, and that if we really had to talk to them and listen to them without a set of questions- what would they say?


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Time is Up, Time is Now

Shradha Shreejaya

Like every 8th of March, we rise this year in 2018 with an official theme of ‘Rural and urban activists transforming women’s lives’. This is a reminder for our movement and people on the original ‘revolutionary’ and ‘left’ origins of women’s day back in the early 1900s (until it became adopted by United Nations in 1975), and the reality of present day where every week we lose a woman environment, human rights defender to ‘development’ ambitions.

In the current climate politics of the world, where we are delaying justice to the most affected communities and negotiations lost in translation, hope and action come from the grassroots women leading the way for a just transition. Attempts of ‘pinkwashing’ by corporations and jargon agencies are trivializing the intent of strong movements by confining women’s roles in climate action to merely ‘cooking stove interventions’ and gender inclusive ‘colours’ or ‘text’, whereas the demands for real solutions are sidelined.

So what are we talking about when we talk about a ‘gender just’ climate agreement this Women’s Day – ensure just and equitable transition[1] of the economy and employment that safeguards environment, thus truly transforming women’s lives.  As we progress into the UNFCCC intersessionals in May, women and gender movements urge governments to take action and honor their promise for gender equality.

To be fair and equitable, this transition must also challenge the gendered-division of labour, which places women in often low waged, insecure and informal subsistence and service industries. This just and equitable transition should challenge the foundations of paid labour so that both paid and unpaid care and domestic work, mostly assumed by women, is valued and redistributed.

The climate crisis persists when private interests and profits matter more than the respect of human rights or the conservation of the Earth and the environment. We need energy and resource democracy, where local people, particularly women, are able to make decisions over the use of local resources and the best way to fulfil their needs. The fight against climate change cannot be impeded by commercial interests[2].

Women’s rights are human rights. Without safeguarding the climate agenda and agreements within the human rights charter and progressing on the commitment towards Loss and Damages, we will continue to fail the activists losing their communities and lives to the crisis.

So this year when we rise, let it be in remembrance of everyone who has risked, fought and lost their lives to keep us moving forward towards a just world that ensures a fair future for all.


[1] Women and Gender Constituency key demands 2017

[2] Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development’s Feminist Fossil Fuel Free Future (5F) vision statement

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The Invisible Green Workers

Why do waste-pickers continue to be a neglected lot, in spite of their vital contribution to keeping a city clean? 

Pinky Chandran, Kabir Arora and Nalini Shekar


Mary is a waste-picker in Bengaluru. A single mother of two, she walks up to 25 km every day to collect 75- odd kg of waste, for a paltry sum of INR 100–150 a day. Being a woman, Mary is often harassed by lewd and drunk men, questioned by the police, threatened by other contract workers, laughed at by kids or accused by the neighbours of being a thief, yet she continues making rounds to collect waste, every day. Waste-picking for her and 25,000 others in Bengaluru is not a hobby, but an occupation that—apart from a fair share of hazards—is considered dirty, ridiculed and traditionally excluded from the narratives of urban life.

Like most Indian cities, Bengaluru has a booming informal economy with an estimated 25,000 waste-pickers, working together with the municipal waste system as it follows a centralised approach of collection and transportation to the landfills. However, despite this attitude of treating waste as disposal, several community-based initiatives were set up in the late 1980s, stressing the need for public participation in solid waste management. The Centre for Environment Education (CEE) started the Committee for Clean Bangalore in partnership with various organisations in 1989 to promote segregation at source. Twenty years later, in 2009, a group of individuals called the Solid Waste Management Round Table (SWMRT) got together to promote decentralised waste management in the city for efficient waste handling.

In 2011, an alliance of waste-pickers filed an affidavit for recognition of waste-pickers which led the Lok Adalat to issue the landmark directive to the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) for the registration and enumeration of waste-pickers and scrap dealers. Around 8,000 waste-pickers were enumerated and more than 6,000 provided identity cards by the municipal body, which had the signature of the Commissioner of the city. This was facilitated by Hasiru Dala, a waste-picker member-based organisation, and the occasional advocacy of Solid Waste Management Round Table.

Continued here….

The piece was first published in Hard News Portal.

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Dispatch from Pakistan: Women most affected by climate change

By Sonia Malik

File Photo from Reuters

For woman in rural areas, the consequences of climate change have been a sharp increase in their daily workload and a host of health and social issues, according to a study conducted in Shaheed Benazirabad, formerly Nawabshah, district in Sindh.

Climate Change and Women: A Study, conducted by Shirkat Gah, assesses the impact of changing weather in four flood-affected villages, particularly on women. According to the study, yet to be published,the heavy floods of 2010 and 2011 affected women more than men as it had resulted in an increase in their workload.

A report cited in the study estimated that the floods affected 51 per cent of the women in the district and 40 per cent of the men. About 3.6 million women in Sindh were affected by the floods in 2010 and 2011, of whom 133,000 were pregnant at the time.

Since the floods, women in these villages have been travelling to other villages to find work such as cotton harvesting, while continuing with their household chores and home-based work like embroidery to make extra money.

The floods wiped away most crops, meaning families needed money to buy vegetables and grains previously available in the fields. The loss of a substantial portion of agricultural land meant more labour was required, so women were spending more time in the fields alongside men than before, in addition to their usual tasks.

Many women complained that the rise in heat intensity over the summer and loss of livestock in the floods meant they had to rise earlier to ground and knead flour, cook, fetch water from wells, buy firewood from markets, clean the house, and then also help in the field. Rising temperatures, coupled with poor diet, made it especially hard for women to work in the fields as well as do house chores. Continue reading