International Women's Day 2023 is an opportunity to reflect on the climate, water and energy challenges that women living in rural areas face in countries such as Bangladesh and India.
Women in rural areas of countries like Bangladesh and India are enmeshed in household activities, from fetching water to arranging firewood for cooking etc., in addition to their childbearing role. Therefore, they are burdened with disproportionate pressure in their routine work at home. They also feel the impacts of climate change more than their male counterparts.
For instance, the two climate change-induced back-to-back cyclones, namely SIDR and Aila, in 2007 and 2009, devastated coastal areas of Bangladesh, home to 20 million people. Among other things, increasing levels of salinity intrusion made fresh water pockets unavailable near many villages. As a result, women in coastal Bangladesh spend more than an hour fetching water from afar, which takes a heavy toll on their health.
Often schoolgirls support their mothers in collecting water, which disrupts their education. In contrast, boys and men usually avoid arduous activities like securing water for daily household needs.
India is also a water-stressed nation and faces challenges as weather patterns change and the frequency of droughts increases. Like Bangladesh, women in India are responsible for fetching water to fulfil their family’s needs and, especially in rural areas, walk miles to reach their nearest water collection point.
When it comes to cooking, many people in rural Bangladesh use traditional and inefficient stoves that cause severe indoor air pollution. As women do the cooking, they are the ones who bear the brunt of indoor air pollution linked to inefficient cookstoves. A study delineates similar results in the case of India, where women from rural areas are exposed to indoor air pollution from cooking with unclean or solid fuels.
Additionally, women are often engaged in the laborious job of gathering energy resources for household cooking.
Notably, 2.4 billion people across the globe still use inefficient cooking systems and polluting fuels. The World Health Organization (WHO) blames inefficient technologies and polluting fuels as major contributors to diseases and deaths of women and children in low and middle-income countries. While access to clean cooking has increased compared to the base year of 2010, governments need to front-load and increase efforts to achieve the target of the clean cooking component of Sustainable Development Goal 7: Affordable and Clean Energy by 2030.
In this regard, Bangladesh and India have undertaken programmes to support the transition to clean cooking. For instance, Bangladesh has been implementing an improved cookstoves program for efficient fuel combustion to reduce smoke and particulate emissions and improve indoor air quality.
Use of Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG)-based cookstoves is also increasing. In 2016, India launched the Ujjwala scheme with an initial target to provide access to LPG to 50 million female members of below-the-poverty-line households that would otherwise use polluting cooking fuels. LPG connections under the scheme reached more than 93 million on 1 July 2022.
While Ujjwala addressed the initial barrier of access to LPG connections and gas stoves, the high cost of refilling the gas cylinder remains a major obstacle. As a next step, India considers electric cooking a cleaner alternative.
Both countries are also spearheading measures to address the water crisis. Bangladesh, supported by the Green Climate Fund (GCF) and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), is implementing rainwater harvesting projects to provide access to water for people living in climate change-affected coastal areas.
Communities in India are taking steps to conserve groundwater amid the depletion of the water table.
Despite all these initiatives, women still find themselves in disadvantaged positions compared to their male counterparts, particularly in rural Bangladesh and India. This is because their roles are distinct from those of men and their work at home is arduous and painstaking. As countries strive for equal opportunities and to make the world a better place, they must accelerate efforts to achieve clean solutions.
This article was first published by Energy Tracker Asia for International Women's Day 2023