In our work, we document the change we see coursing through mountain communities in the Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH). While each mountain community from Afghanistan to Myanmar displays unique qualities and faces distinct challenges, one thing that unites them all is change.
For good reason, much of the change that draws our attention these days is climate change. The variations in the temperature and weather patterns that have intensified in the last few decades are felt even more forcefully in the HKH, where growing seasons, water access, and land use patterns have all been disrupted, making hard lives even more challenging.
Similarly, the mountain families and villages that depend on natural resources to sustain their livelihoods are scrambling to preserve their ways of life while also building a more secure future. For this reason, many men in the HKH elect to migrate for work, oftentimes going away for months or years at a time to earn income for their families.
As a result, we find women in the HKH having to assume an even more important role in the daily lives of their communities. Not only are women continuing to manage their households, but more and more they are having to assume the agricultural and governance responsibilities that have long been overseen by men.
In this context, changes to the environment have an especially intimate relationship to livelihoods. As irrigation and roads are more difficult to maintain in mountain communities, alterations in rain fall or market access can deliver significant impacts on mountain families in areas where fewer livelihood options exist.
Women from Udayapur, Nepal sharing what they have in their Go-Bag during community meeting
Many of these changes and their impacts are caused by factors outside the immediate control of mountain communities. But we know we can take steps—bold steps—to foster positive change in the communities of the HKH.
At ICIMOD, we start from the premise that gender equality is a prerequisite for sustainable development in the HKH. And we emphasize this belief with all of our partners. Women play a crucial role as managers of their families and their households, and serve as a vital source of local knowledge about agriculture, livelihoods, and health. In other words, women are key to creati ng the kind of change mountain communities need to build stronger and more resilient lives.
Within our institution, we strive for gender equality in our practices and perceptions regarding gender roles and the allocation of tasks between men and women. We document and share good gender-equitable practices across the institution. And we assess our progress toward gender equality by auditing ourselves every four years.
Across the HKH, three ICIMOD programmes from last year illustrate our commitment to build women’s capacity to adapt to change. In Assam, we collaborated with the Indian government to develop women’s financial literacy and access to financial institutions. These women learned how to create monthly budgets, build their savings, and develop disaster preparedness measures such as “go-bags.” These activities have given them more confidence about handling household finances and preparing for unexpected developments.
In the Koshi Basin, Nepal, we reviewed existing water use plans and planning exercises to understand how to improve women’s participation in water management decisions. After conferring with area women and local planners, we will submit recommendations to relevant policy makers for making water use planning a more inclusive and gender-sensitive event.
In southern Nepal and northern India, ICIMOD is testing solar pumps and financial models for those women who wish to buy solar-powered irrigation pumps for their fields. The programme is significant not only for providing environmentally-friendly means of irrigation, but also for recognizing that women are now making important agricultural decisions for their families. Programmes like this one help to change the norms that inhibit women’s ownership of land.
These three programmes may seem small in and of themselves, but taken together and taken forward they mark what we believe will become a bold, transformative process for empowering women and achieving gender equality in the HKH.
And so on this International Women’s Day 2017, we renew our pledge to serve women and families in the HKH. In our work today and tomorrow, we vow to seek change where needed, and to make space for all the voices that valuably inform our efforts to serve mountains and people.
Wishing you all a Happy International Women’s Day!