An ecosystems approach to tribal women's health
Environmental degradation poses the biggest threat to tribal women, who are heavily dependent on their immediate surroundings for survival.
An environmental determinant of health is, in general, any external agent (biological, chemical, physical, social or cultural) that can be causally linked to a change in health status. In developing world, the primary environment determinants of health are biological agents in the air, water, and soil that account for most deaths. According to WHO, over one billion people are unable to meet their basic needs (i.e., adequate food, clean water and shelter) because they lack the necessary income or land.
Environmental degradation poses biggest threat to marginal cultures like that of tribals, and occupations like, nomads, fisher folk and artisans, who are heavily dependent on their immediate environment for their survival. But the maximum impact of the destruction of biomass sources is on women. Most of the development programmes are ignorant of women's needs, and often anti-women, literally designed to increase their work burden.
Given the culturally accepted division of labour within the family, the collection of household needs like fuel, fodder and water is left to women. As the environment degrades, and survival needs become increasingly difficult to collect, women have to spend an extraordinary amount of time foraging for fuel, fodder and water in addition to household work, agricultural work and caring for animals.
The experience of Chipko Movement shows that women in Himalayan Ghats, despite their 14-16 hours back-breaking work schedule, are extremely keen to participate in tree planting or afforestation.