Women at work

Why are South Asian women missing from climate change debates?

Women from the region are underrepresented at such talks, despite greater women’s representation from other countries.

There has been a shift in the way women are considered in climate change discussions. We are being urged to stop thinking of women as victims of climate change, but as a valuable resource, capable of contributing to local, national, regional and global efforts to counter climate change.

There is probably no better example of this than Christiana Figueres, the former Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. “Empowerment of women strengthens climate action, we can make it a reality," she said during the recently concluded Bonn Climate Talks in May. "Each member state must have gender-sensitive policies which are more effective in making sure that they focus on climate change mitigation and adaptation."

However, there appears to be a huge disconnect between the discussions on gender mainstreaming, and the actual inclusion of women as meaningful contributors in climate negotiations and conferences. Even by many of the so-called mainstreamers.

Woefully low representation

Of the seven plenary sessions and 35 parallel sessions held at the Asia Pacific Climate Change Adaptation Forum in Sri Lanka this week, the representation of South Asian women was woefully low.

One of the few women invited was Khrienuo Metha, secretary to the state government of Nagaland in India. She was there for “gender representation”, one woman among five men at a high level plenary on Environment and Climate Authorities.

Her participation was upheld for its role in gender balance – perhaps more for the sake of maintaining this balance, rather than adding anything from her experience. In fact, I later learned from Metha that originally, “They had invited the chief minister of Nagaland”. But “because he could not come, he had requested his environment minister to come.”

Khrienuo Metha may not have been the only one only there by accident.

Khrienuo Metha listens to a question on climate change at a high-level plenary where she was the only female speaker [image by Farshad Usyan]
Khrienuo Metha listens to a question on climate change at a high-level plenary where she was the only female speaker [image by Farshad Usyan]

Social reasons?

While gender came up as a discussion point in these sessions, it is indicative to note that only one session out of 35 explicitly referenced gender at the APAN conference.

But it wasn’t that there were no women there. The stage was filled with women from other Asian countries. Japan for instance was fairly well represented; with women leading some sessions or being part of high level panels. But the same cannot be said for women from South Asia.

Hina Lotia, director of programmes at LEAD Pakistan, was one of the few women presenters from South Asia at the conference. "I feel that it’s not that women are less in number; it’s just that they are not active in speaking up,” she pointed out. Looking around at the hall, she said, “It’s not about women as a symbol of gender mainstreaming. It’s also about men highlighting the vulnerabilities of women.”

The South Asian women sat and listened to women from developed countries, as they led session after session over the last two days. So why the drought of South Asian women? It’s not that female scientists and policymakers from this region are any less.

Is part of the problem that there are no women on top positions in South Asian countries?

Looking back at the various climate change forums in the past, Lotia observed a definite gender bias. “Policy makers and experts who we see at high level forums and plenaries today are those who have reached up the ladder over time," she said. "And we look 25-30 years back, women were less represented in this group."

Harjeet Singh, from Action Aid India, said structural reasons may also be to blame. While the sessions were ongoing, Singh, in response to a question on what the barriers to South Asian women’s participation in the conference could be, responded in a tweet:

Way ahead

It is not enough to lament every time a forum on climate change comes up, that there are not enough women involved. Structural changes and socio-cultural norms may be difficult to change, but what can be changed is the way these forums are conceptualised. For now, gender and female representation is more an add on rather than an integral part of inclusive climate debate.

This can only be countered if women start recognising the need to put other promising women forward. In addition, for governments, conference organizers and the entire climate change community, promoting gender participation, particularly from countries whose women are facing the greatest challenges due to climate change should be given due consideration.

All is not lost, though if you ask Lotia. “People who lead research are invited as speakers," she said. "Women as principal investigators for research projects are a rare commodity. Now donors and funders are encouraging women lead research. Also, the number of women going into research and specialised degrees is also increasing. The challenge would be for these women to come into the workforce.”

And on the second day of the conference, Saleemul Haq tweeted this picture, showing improvement:

This article first appeared on The Third Pole.

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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.