Munda women strengthen themselves to face climate change
The Munda women of the Sundarban region of coastal Bangladesh live in some of the most impoverished communities in the Asia Pacific region. As indigenous peoples, they have had less political voice and as women have to contend with patriarchal social norms. A project to empower them for adopting to climate change has shifted the balance in their community so that women can take part in local government decision-making on climate change’s impacts on their community.
Women are the most vulnerable to the impact of climate change. They are exposed to increased risks because of their primary role in care work and agricultural production and because climate change is increasing the burden of water and food collection, which usually falls on women. They have also are primarily responsible for caring for the young and elderly family members during floods and storms.
The story of the Munda women’s journey of empowerment has been documented under a feminist participatory action research conducted by the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development with Initiative for Right View (Bangladesh).
Rising sea levels have increased the salinity of their household and agricultural water sources: women had to walk 2 kilometers to fetch potable water. Access to water has also strained their efforts to provide and care for their families. Their coastal location has also made them more vulnerable to storms and flooding, which has become increasingly more frequent.
To adopt to rising salinity, the women have been organising to equip themselves with rainwater collection tanks. This gives them accessible fresh water for use at home and even allows them to grown small vegetable gardens to supply their household needs. “Before we had to go fetch water every day. Now if we store one day we can easily leave off it for 3 to 4 days.” says one woman from the Gabura Munda village.
Their knowledge and resolve has enabled them to participate in village decision-making. One woman, Rajkumari Munda was approached by community leaders to be part of the policing committee representing her village. This gave her the opportunity and political voice to air the challenges facing her village. “We demand that indigenous practices and local knowledge be included into national climate policies” she says. “ We know that if immediate action to stop the causes of climate change is not undertaken the survival of human life on earth will be seriously threatened.”
Bangladesh is among the countries that contribute lease to climate change and emits 44 times less per person than the United States but they have felt the harshest impacts of climate change.
As world leaders are gathering this week in Paris, France to discuss solutions and reach an agreement on how to deal with climate change, women in many parts of the Asia and Pacific are steadily organising and strengthening their capacity to adapt and demand climate justice. The wealthy, developed countries need to be told that they owe women of the Global South an historic debt given the development and industrialisation of rich countries and the damage it has done on the global environment has been at their expense.
Every storm season brings a level urgency as lives and livelihoods are increasingly threatened by climate change. But they know that it is up to the world’s leaders to make the crucial decision that will turn back the tide of climate change. Through the climate justice programme, the Munda women of the Sundarbans have articulated key demands for governments at COP 21:
- Commit to a radical and urgent transition from extractive, profit-based economies to people centred models that are just, equitable, gender-sensitive and locally driven.
- Commit to a comprehensive, ambitious and binding new climate agreement which aims to limit global warming below 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and that ensure a ‘paradigm shift’ in global governance and economies focused on redistribution of wealth, power and resources, guided by science and principles of equity.
- Human rights, gender equality, indigenous peoples rights, food security, just and equitable transitions should be recognised as objectives of the Paris agreement, and incorporated in all elements of the document and in all climate actions and decisions.
“Rising Sea, Rising Strength” 8:16 (Bangladesh)
This documentary from Bangladesh is a result of a Climate Justice Feminist Participatory Action Research by Initiative for Right View (IRV) and Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD). This video brings the story of marginalized Munda indigenous women of Bangladesh. Munda people living in the coastal areas of one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change are losing their livelihood due to rising sea level and salinity. But the women from local community are raising their voice for climate justice by increasing their participation in local decision making bodies and developing adaptation measures.