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Women in the changing Himalayas

Jul 30, 2010

Gender Perspectives in Mountain Development, New challenges and innovative approaches, an ICIMOD publication examines the gender perspective in mountain development, reflecting on emerging gender issues in the Himalayas and presenting innovative approaches for empowering mountain women.

Gender Perspectives in Mountain Development, New challenges and innovative approaches

Publisher: ICIMOD, 2010

The current issue of the periodical Sustainable Mountain Development is dedicated to celebrating women’s contribution to mountain livelihoods and wellbeing.


The Hindu Kush-Himalayan region is a highly diverse and dynamic area – geographically, biologically, and culturally – and is undergoing rapid change as a result of the impacts of many drivers. Addressing the issues of women and men for mountain development in this region is thus a complex task not least in terms of the diversity of cultural contexts and national capacities.

The necessity of gender equality for mountain development was affirmed at the Bishkek Global Mountain Summit in 2002, in the preceding Thimphu Declaration of 2002, and in the Orem Declaration of Mountain Women in 2007.

Experience has shown that gender inequalities hinder the achievement of sustainable development. Since climate change is becoming a major driver of change in mountain livelihoods, ICIMOD is concerned with increasing the capacity of mountain communities to adapt to climate change and with enhancing their resilience.

In so doing, they assume that women have the same capacity to adapt to climate change as men. Nonetheless, despite women’s greater vulnerability, their local knowledge and roles in mountain livelihoods could be a key to adaptation.

However, there is still a lack of recognition of women’s contribution, which is manifested in development policies and household practices that perpetuate unequal access to financial services, property, rights, legal protection, education, information, health, and other economic and social services. It furthermore prevents women from participating effectively in making the decisions that shape economic, political, and social development. Women require access to services and appropriate technologies to address their basic needs and adapt to a changing world.

Short articles in this edition explore a range of complex issues from the feminisation of agriculture to the impact of climate change on women, and present innovation approaches ranging from REDD to drudgery reduction.

A detailed analysis of mountain poverty in Nepal in the article by Kiran Hunzai, indicates another new and surprising change in Nepal; women-headed households are on average, better off than those headed by men.

Because of male migration and the reduced workforce, women, who already do a disproportionate share, are now doing an ever-increasing portion of the work for agriculture and livelihoods. This phenomenon is referred to as the feminisation of mountain agriculture and livelihoods. In her article on women’s assets and rights in the context of the feminisation of agriculture in Asia, Govind Kelkar shows how the traditional systems give women less access, control, and ownership of land and other productive resources.

In most of the Himalayan region, women are responsible for supplying water and fuel and play a crucial role in food security. Since climate change affects the mountain natural resources and biodiversity that provide water, food, and energy, the depletion of natural resources has particularly negative consequences for women.

With increasing national wealth and ongoing socioeconomic development, new norms and values have entered the lives of people in the Himalayas -- and old norms and values have changed or been revived. These changes affect men and women differently and create changes in gender relations, status, and expectations.

For example, patriarchal family norms and perceptions of ‘how a man or woman should be’ are changing quickly. The penetration of TV and Internet is introducing new values and norms, or at least raising aspirations. Himalayan ‘daughters’ are already different to their mothers with their day-to-day realities, hopes, and aspirations diverging widely from those of their elders.These conditions and circumstances suggest that in the years ahead, women’s lives could increasingly move in different directions.

As the younger generation of men use new possibilities arising from their education and employment, so will the lives of younger women and girls also change drastically in most parts of the region. For a portion of them, their lives will be fundamentally different to those of their mothers and grandmothers.

The articles in this newsletter show that it is nearly impossible to achieve a comprehensive ‘regional’ overview of gender issues. The parallel and contradicting influences on the lives of people are too diverse to develop a simple overview. However, these glimpses of ‘reality’ offer insights into the more recent dynamics of gender relationships in the Himalayas. They also show the manifold ways in which mountain communities maintain their resilience, and the fact that their high adaptive capacity is generally based on an increased contribution from mountain women.

There is a growing awareness of the importance of a gendered view on mountain development problems with a specific focus on the generally disadvantaged women. However, despite all the positive developments, women are still not represented well, do not have a fair share of the resources, and are not seen as the important contributors to improved wellbeing in society that they are. This issue needs to be addressed by all those concerned with mountain development.

Source : ICIMOD
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