The overall Environmental Performance Index (EPI) rankings indicate which countries best address the environmental challenges that every nation faces. India ranks lowest among 180 countries in the EPI 2022. Of all the issues that affect India’s EPI, one that has persisted is inequality. Inequalities can be based on gender, ethnicity, religion, age, income, or even access to public resources.
India’s rapid economic development has placed increasing pressure on our natural resources and environment. And while women are most vulnerable to climate change, they are not given an equal voice in formulating climate policies, which threatens to widen the existing gender-based disparities further.
Women, Environment and Gender Day at COP27
Women are predominantly the primary caregivers in families responsible for rationing and managing resources for their families. Particularly in rural areas, women spend a huge amount of time securing sources of fuel, food, and fodder for their families and livestock. But ‘home’ is not where their responsibilities end. Close to 75% of the full-time workers on Indian farms are women. Yet less than 8% own land. Despite their disproportionate contribution both inside and outside the home, women often have a negligible role in decision-making owing to their being relegated to traditional roles without any independent voice in a patriarchal society.
For centuries women have been forced to live in the shadows. But, as the planet faces an existential crisis, it’s time for this to change, since any climate solutions that fail to take into account gender inequalities will neither be just nor lasting.
And change can happen only when women get a seat at the table. Only when they have a voice in formulating and implementing policies to ensure fair gender inclusion, can we dream of an equal and better future.
But the path to that much-deserved seat is not easy for women. Since, in most Indian households, the burden of care falls on women, their participation outside the home, including their ability to contribute to climate action, gets heavily impacted. Add to that gender-based violence and other deterring factors like lack of basic rights, gender-based discrimination, and similar political, socio-economic, and cultural barriers, and it gets more challenging for them.
By prioritizing gender equality in climate change narratives, the aim is to integrate a more diverse perspective in policy-making.
To address these issues and improve the representation of women in climate action, Gender Thematic Day was observed on Nov 14 during COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. By prioritizing gender equality in climate change narratives, the aim is to integrate a more diverse perspective in policy-making. And by making investments to foster their skills and knowledge, she can be empowered to become the agent of transformational change for a sustainable, more equal future.
Indian Women and Sustainability
For Indian women, sustainability is not just a new-age concept and is certainly not a fad. In most Indian households, women have always been responsible for thrift and managing with less, whether it is mending clothes or reusing leftovers for a different meal or saving old boxes and bags for reuse, or extending the lifecycle of clothes as hand-me-downs among siblings. To be sure, this is often driven by scarcity and hardships. But, even amongst relatively affluent households, sustainability, especially within the domestic space, has been a common practice. The middle-class Indian woman has been championing circularity long before world leaders were forced to convene under one roof to tackle climate change!
But with the consumption growth, we may be at risk of losing this traditional wisdom as we embrace modern use-and-throw living. The global environmental crisis calls for combining the best elements of our age-old practices with modern lifestyles and sensibilities.
Indian Women Changemakers Championing Sustainability
As conversations for a ‘greener’ world and a sustainable future gain urgency around the world, we look at some remarkable Indian women who are doing their bit every day to make a difference. They are doing it in many different ways – as environmentalists influencing policy, entrepreneurs offering products alternatives for sustainable living, celebrities influencing consumer choices, and journalists and writers making important voices heard.
- Sunita Narain: The Director-General of the Centre for Science and Environment, an environmental research organization in New Delhi, and an environmentalist, Sunita Narain is known for being a tireless advocate of sustainable development. Featured in Time’s list of 100 Most Influential People, she has always been vocal about how India’s climate solution lies in de-colonialism and creating a unique model to fight climate change instead of aping ideas from the west. She is a pioneer and her ideas have made an invaluable contribution to some of the biggest environmental discussions of our time, from the air pollution crisis to waste management solutions to more.
- Kirti Poonia: One of India’s foremost serial ecopreneurs, she is credited with taking Okhai, a small women’s group that was started in a little village by the Tata Chemicals Society for Rural Development, from 350 women in Gujarat to 27,000 women across India. Today Okhai is a well-known name in the sustainable fashion space. A huge proponent of circular economy, Kirti is working towards creating circularity in fashion. She is currently building technology start-up Relove which aims to make pre-loved fashion mainstream by encouraging people to resell their garments.
- Rhea Mazumdar Singhal: The founder and CEO of Ecoware, India’s first and largest sustainable packaging company, Rhea Mazumdar Singhal has always championed sustainable entrepreneurship. Due to her relentless work in transforming the environmental impact of India’s packaging industry, Rhea was appointed ‘Young Global Leader’ by World Economic Forum. She is also a winner of the Nari Shakti award given by the President of India. Rhea is a strong votary for female entrepreneurship and her pioneering leadership in sustainable packaging, long before it became a part of mainstream conversation, has inspired many women.
- Bahar Dutt: A television journalist, environmental editor, and columnist for CNN-IBN, Bahar Dutt is also the winner of over ten national and international awards. From running an animal ambulance for injured animals to helping the traditional community of snake charmers find livelihood options, Bahar has become a powerful voice to reckon with in environmental journalism in India. She is also the author of the book, Green Wars, which looks at the conflict between development and the environment from a journalist’s lens.
- Dia Mirza: A renowned model and actor, Dia Mirza is perhaps India’s best-known celebrity champion of environmental sustainability. A Goodwill Ambassador working with the United Nations and a committed activist for social change, conservation, and the environment, she uses her voice and influence for positive impact. She has been the face of numerous environmental campaigns across India and has worked relentlessly towards conserving wildlife. Dia is also an eco-investor who has put her money into sustainability focussed start-ups like Shumee Toys and Beco that align with her values.
We doff our hat to these changemakers and promise to keep turning the spotlight on more women leaders who are driving the shift to a more just and sustainable world!
Leading The Way
Women constitute 49.58% of the world population. They are disproportionately vulnerable to the impact of climate change and bear the brunt of it. It is only when they are empowered with equal opportunities for leadership, decision-making, and effective engagement at all levels, and equal access, ownership, and control over resources can there be a significant and lasting positive social and environmental impact.
In the words of UN Women Executive Director Sima Bahous, “Let us collaborate to ensure that, going forward, our collective efforts as a global community take the fullest advantage of what women and girls can, must and, I believe, will bring to saving a world that desperately needs them.”