Post-Covid-19, women and the green economy
As we build back after Covid-19, the challenge of the climate crisis and its ecological, economic and social impact must be prioritised. There have been discussions on green jobs and businesses, clean energy sources, and sustainable agriculture. All of this is, of course, needed — but it must also be more inclusive.
Women are among the most affected by the climate crisis, and face relocation and displacement, loss of income and health deficiencies, among other adverse effects. But they have little voice in shaping the response to the crisis, nor are they considered an integral component of the transition that must be made to a green economy.
Agriculture will remain a key sector in the post-pandemic phase. As migrant workers who returned home in the wake of the second wave begin returning to cities in search of jobs, the burden of managing the land and sustaining farming will fall overwhelmingly on women. But they confront crippling disadvantages.
For a start, land deeds are usually not in the names of women. This often prevents them from accessing benefits and schemes meant for farmers. India must scale up programmes for women in new farming technologies and financial awareness. This will also enable them to access credit easier.
At a time when the pandemic is reconfiguring the economic landscape, how we work, where we work from, and indeed, who works, this is an opportunity to reimagine the role of women in agriculture. One way to do so is by encouraging support groups through the still robust panchayati raj system.
We also have a vibrant system of self-help groups and community structures that can focus more effectively on women’s initiatives and involvement in agriculture and agro-based industries in rural areas.
The government has to pitch in with resources for training and capacity-building for women. And to make it ecologically sustainable, this training should cover improving water conservation methods, increasing the use of organic pesticides, and building an agricultural ecosystem geared to meet climate challenges.
Do remember that women farmers also have the additional burden of managing their homes, children’s education, and care for the elderly. The wider community, especially men, must be sensitised to the invisible work that women put in beyond the fields, and support structures must be created to enable women to devote more time to generate incomes through farming and allied activities.
In the post-Covid-19 economy, there must also be greater focus on encouraging the participation of women in green industries. The renewable energy sector, which Prime Minister Narendra Modi has steadfastly promoted, should involve more women. This will empower them, but also create economic value.
There is a huge market in rural areas for renewable energy products, and women can play a significant role in building businesses around these. Vocational education, too, can include courses on the climate crisis, sustainable agriculture and green industries.
Across the world, gender is becoming a significant factor in climate policies. Even as India has done well in recognising the climate crisis and working towards meeting its Paris obligations, it has been relatively slow in recognising the gender dimension of climate. It is time to learn from global best practices and evolve a robust framework for women and the green economy.
The views expressed are personal