Climate change hits women’s health harder.  Activists are calling on leaders to address it at COP28

Climate change hits women’s health harder. Activists are calling on leaders to address it at COP28

NEW DELHI (AP) – Manju Devi suffered in pain for two months last year while working on a farm near Delhi, unable to break away from her duties which often required her to spend hours in waist-deep paddy water. rice, lifting heavy loads in intense heat and spraying pesticides and insecticides. When that pain finally became too much to bear, she was taken to hospital.

The doctors’ verdict: Devi suffered from a protracted uterus and would need a hysterectomy. She had not spoken to her family about her discomfort with a societal taboo about discussing “women’s illness” and with two grown children and three grandchildren looking to the 56-year-old widow to help put food on the table , Devi relied on painkillers to stay in the fields.

“I suffered excruciating pain for months, I was afraid to talk about it in public. It shouldn’t take a surgical procedure to realize the cost of heat gain,” she said, surrounded by women who said they had a similar affinity.

As the annual UN climate summit known as COP takes place later this month in Dubai, activists are urging policymakers to respond to the disproportionate impact of climate change on women and girls, particularly when poverty makes them more vulnerable.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is part of a series produced under the India Climate Journalism Program, a collaboration between The Associated Press, the Stanley Center for Peace and Security and the Press Trust of India.

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Their recommendations include securing land rights for women, promoting women’s cooperatives and encouraging women to take the lead in developing climate policy. They also recommend that countries – especially developing countries like India – give more money in their budgets to ensure gender equity in climate policies.

A group of 20 leaders who met in New Delhi in September also recognized the problem, calling for climate action to be accelerated with gender equality at its core by increasing women’s participation and leadership in mitigation and adaptation.

Devi is a farm worker in Syaraul, a village of about 7,000 a few hours southeast of Delhi in Uttar Pradesh, India’s largest and most populous state. Several other middle-aged and elderly women from the village described similar injuries that led to hysterectomies.

The link between phenomena like uterine prolapse and climate change is indirect but significant, said Seema Bhaskaran, who tracks gender issues for the nonprofit Transform Rural India Foundation.

“Women in climate-affected rural communities often bear the brunt of physically demanding agricultural work, which is exacerbated by climate change-related challenges such as erratic weather and increased labor requirements,” Bhaskaran said. . prolapse, it increases the underlying health challenges and conditions that make women more susceptible to such health issues.”

About 150 kilometers (93 miles) away, in the village of Nanu, 62-year-old farm worker Savita Singh is blaming climate change for a chemical infection she sustained in August 2022.

When her husband moved to Delhi to work as a plumber, she was left alone to look after the couple’s fields. As rice and wheat yields fell due to changing climate patterns and increased pest attacks, Singh’s husband, who retained decision-making power, decided to increase the use of pesticides and insecticides. Singh, who was against the increases, was tasked with applying the chemicals.

“With the increase in pest attacks on farms, we have started using pesticides and fertilizers in our farms more than three times and without any safety equipment my hand was burnt by the chemicals and one of my fingers had to be amputated,” she said .

In Pilakhana, another village of Uttar Pradesh, 22-year-old wage laborer Babita Kumari suffered stillbirths in 2021 and this year she attributes the heavy lifting she endured daily while working a brick kiln. for long hours in intense heat. Climate change has at least increased the chance of heat waves hitting the state this year, according to an analysis by Climate Central, a US-based group of independent scientists that developed a tool to quantify the contribution of climate change to daily variable temperatures.

“My mother and her mother worked in brick kilns all their lives but the heat was not that bad even though they worked for more than eight hours like me. But in the last six or seven years the situation has worsened and the heat has become unbearable but what option do we have but to bear it,” said Kumari, who lives in a makeshift camp with her husband.

Bhaskaran noted that women in India often take on leading roles in agriculture while men migrate to urban areas, making women particularly vulnerable to the direct effects of climate change. A government labor force survey for 2021-22 found that 75% of people working in agriculture are women. But only about 14% of agricultural land is owned by women, according to a government agricultural census.

For Bhaskaran, it conjures up a picture of women sacrificing their health by working long hours in intense heat, exposed to insecticides and pesticides, and with uncertain access to clean water. In addition, many are undernourished because they “eat often and last within patriarchal structures,” she said.

Poonam Muttreja is a women’s rights activist who also heads the Population Foundation of India, an NGO that focuses on population issues, family planning, reproductive health, and gender equality. She said it is vital that COP28, the meeting in Dubai, takes concrete action to help women.

She said COP28 should go beyond providing financial assistance, and actively promote and facilitate the inclusion of gender considerations in all climate-related policies, initiatives and actions.

“It must give priority to awareness programs that highlight the specific health challenges that women face due to climate change as a vital step towards increasing public knowledge. These efforts will also serve as a call to action for governments, institutions and communities to prioritize women’s health and well-being as a central part of their climate initiatives,” she said.

Anjal Prakash, professor and director of research at the Bharat Institute of Public Policy at the Indian Business School, coordinated a working group that examined gender for a recent assessment by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. He said it will take international pressure to overcome some countries that may quietly oppose gender-sensitive climate policies due to conservative ideologies and political barriers.

Finding money will also be a huge challenge, he said.

Shweta Narayan, researcher and environmental justice activist at Health Care Without Harm, said women, children and the elderly are among the most vulnerable to extreme climate events. She saw cause for hope at COP28 because of a dedicated Health Day at the conference.

“There is certainly a clear recognition that climate has an impact on health and that health needs to be taken more seriously,” she said.

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Associated Press climate and environmental coverage is supported by several private foundations. See more about the AP climate initiative here. The AP is solely responsible for all matters.

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