Prajnya Gender Talks, October 2021 || Gender, Climate Change and Securitisation by Asha Hans

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October 2021

Rapporteur: Suhasini Udayakumar

About the speaker

Dr Asha Hans is the founder of Sansristi and the Executive Vice President of the Shanta Memorial Rehabilitation Centre. She has had a long and illustrious academic career at Utkal University and published prolifically on international relations and South Asian politics. She has been a long-standing and active member of the Pakistan India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy. Dr Hans’ most recent publication is Engendering Climate Change: Lessons from South Asia (Routledge 2021) co-edited with Nitya Rao, Anjal Prakash and Amrita Patel.

Context

Across the planet, climate change is altering risk patterns and several factors interact to increasingly expose people to natural hazards. Even as researchers unpack women’s vulnerability to climate change, the emerging “securitisation” of climate is being perceived as a potential cause for global instability and conflict. Feminists need to explore and formulate a response to this new climate-“securitisation.”

Climate Change within the Gender Discourse

Dr Hans states that climate change is missing from the gender discourse despite being one of the world’s most pressing issues. In fact, climate change has given rise to a new kind of colonialism and a strengthening of militarization. Over the course of the Gender Talk, Dr Hans hopes to discuss why and how has this happened.

Frameworks for Climate Change

Dr Hans lays out the frameworks for climate change that currently exist in the world. The first is the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) which acts as a space for negotiation for all member states. The UNFCCC has been active since 1994 but only in 2014 did it recognise gender as an important aspect of climate change. 

Dr Hans reflects that ground realities, issues, and activism aren’t reflected in these conventions. Although women bear the brunt of climate change, the gender component is missed out from the discourse because there are barely any women present at the conventions to discuss it.  For example, the rapid creation of the Mahanadi delta in India has displaced indigenous people, many of them women, to new territories. But international relations prefer that no migration occur, ignoring the fact that climate change leaves people with no choice. 

The second framework for climate change is Resolution 2242, which is part of the UN Security Council 1325 for Women, Peace and Security (WPS). 1325, celebrated for its sturdy pillars, did not include climate change on its agenda until 2015 and is yet to be mainstreamed, having but one paragraph to its name in the framework.

How do women suffer due to climate change?

Climate change has led to a new kind of colonialism in critically affected areas. The melting of the Arctic, for example, has led to world powers descending on the area for resources. The Arctic is divided among many countries such as the US, China, Russia, Norway, and Canada, which have all hastened to extract valuable resources such as minerals. The indigenous women in the Arctic suffer from the consequent extraction politics and imperialism. 

Around 2007, countries around the world announced that climate change was affecting their defence bases. This developed a new agenda, which led to large sums of money being pumped in to protect these bases. Forgotten was the fact that continued militarization devastates women in conflict areas through war crimes such as rape, abduction, and more. 

How do we move forward?

Dr Hans talks about CEDAW recommendations on WPS and climate change, which are supposed to be mandatory but are hardly followed by member states. These world conventions highlight issues but are not committed to changing mindsets, without which change is simply not possible. The importance of the UN has decreased over time and it is not a good sign that member states do not take its values and opinions seriously. 

Dr Hans shares the words of Mia Mottley, the Prime Minister of Barbados at a UN General Assembly meeting: one of the greatest barriers in WPS is the lack of belief and trust in the UN’s vision. Without that, where does one go from here? 100 billion USD dedicated to climate finance is not all that is required. What is of utmost urgency is global moral strategic leadership. How many more disasters is the world to witness? How many more women of colour are to be attacked? World leaders and organisations offer kind words but do not demonstrate the goodwill to distribute the surplus resources harboured by the one per cent. The vulnerable and the marginal pay the price for this greed. 

Dr Hans concludes that we need to transfigure the concept of securitisation into that of human security. We must become more intersectional in the gender and climate change discourse, paying special attention to women with disabilities and transwomen, who suffer even more disproportionately due to climate change. 

“Patriarchal mindsets mar modernisation” by Asha Hans

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Another of our friends, Asha Hans, has written in this Sunday’s Indian Express, “Above all, though India ‘modernises’ and lets in global market forces converting people to newer branded consumer items, our patriarchal mindsets have not changed.”

Read: Asha Hans, Patriarchal mindsets mar modernisation, Sunday Express, May 22, 2011.

Full text copied here, in case the URL is not stable:

There are many blessings in India showered on a new bride, such as “may you have seven sons” or “may you be the mother of 100 sons”. Outdated as it may seem in a world increasingly promoting fewer children, the cultural dimension of son preference remains entrenched deep in societal thinking. In a country where women constitutionally have the right to equality, this blessing has become a significant marker of discrimination, as reflected in our declining child sex ratio.

The Census 2011 brought some cheer as the sex ratio showed a seven-point increase from 933 to 940. Kerala remains the state with the highest female sex ratio of 1,084 females vs 1,000 males. In contrast, Haryana reflects the lowest with 877 females. Broken down further, the state-level data shows the ratio in districts going down to as low as 583 in Leh and 533 in Daman.

Unfortunately the 0-6 child sex ratio has shown a drastic decline in India, having fallen by 13 points. There are deep variations, with Jammu and Kashmir falling an unbelievable 82 points and Maharashtra falling below the 913-mark to 883. The northwest states, which have always been in the danger zone, showed overall improvement with Punjab going up from 798 to 846. Eastern and southern India unfortunately demonstrate a widening regional decline.

In general, research on sex ratio has shown that the economies of gender are explicitly reflected in the demand for dowry and income potential of a son. There are also the socio-cultural needs of a male heir to make one’s identity known through one’s name in this world, and help one’s entry into the next. In this demand-driven world, the result is the practice of female infanticide and female foeticide. Though the government passed the PCPNDT legislation banning sex determination, it has made little change to the now disturbing trend of missing girls in India.

China is facing a worse problem due to its one-child policy which is acting as barrier to development. It is, therefore, advocating two children in some regions, but this policy as reported by the media is not paying off. To some extent, this is also reflected in India’s skewed sex ratio where now increasingly parents do not want more than two children. And those two, as observed, are sons.

As society is masculinised, violence against women is increasing, including rape, abduction, trafficking, slavery and polyandry. Muna, a small shopkeeper from Punjab, could not find a wife in the neighbouring countryside and had to pay a broker to get a wife who was a Bangladeshi migrant. Nimmi, a woman who was detected to be carrying a female foetus, had to undergo a DNA test as the priest had predicted she would have a boy.

There is another expected danger we should be aware of. The presence of large numbers of unmarried men in general will create more aggression and violence across the country. If the sex ratio in Jammu and Kashmir, for instance, is skewed so much in favour of boys, the state will see even more violence in future because there will be an imbalanced masculinised social structure.

With newer and cheaper sex detection technologies emerging, the state is losing control. It is, therefore, no longer only the context of rich districts with high numbers of sonography centres with sex ratio problems, but also tribal and poor societies which are coming under the sweeping force of cheap technology.

Above all, though India ‘modernises’ and lets in global market forces converting people to newer branded consumer items, our patriarchal mindsets have not changed.

The writer is former director of the School of Women’s Studies, Utkal University.