COPING WITH TOO MUCH AND TOO LITTLE WATER AND LINKS TO TRAFFICKING
Climate-related disasters – such as droughts, floods, landslides, cyclones, intense storms, glacial lake outbursts – severely affect the most vulnerable and resource poor communities, which depend on natural resources for their survival and livelihoods in the HKH. Women are particularly vulnerable during conflicts and any type of climate related disasters and hazards (ICIMOD, 2009). This vulnerability includes new forms of slavery and trafficking in times of disasters.
As numerous studies have demonstrated, women bear the disproportionate burden of the costs of disasters, if their rights are not ensured and if gender, socio-cultural and political- economic inequalities within the context of gender relations and institutions are not addressed (Mehta, 2007). When disasters hit, more women than men die because of lack of information, mobility, decision-making, access to resources and training, gender-based cultural norms and barriers, and high rates of male out-migration. For instance, a recent study that analysed disasters in 141 countries demonstrated that the gender gap in life expectancy (in most countries women outlive men, except for India, Nepal and Bangladesh) becomes narrower due to the higher mortality of women in disasters (Nuemayer and Plümper, 2007). Such studies bring our attention to the gender differentiated impacts of droughts and floods. Newly emerging analysis described further below points to the previously neglected consequences of climate change: women’s increasing vulnerability to trafficking after climate-induced disasters.
As the evidence and case studies from the region indicate, women often suffer more of an impact than men in climate change related disasters. However, great care and caution must be taken to not link this relationship to biological differences between females and males (i.e. sex differences). Rather, this relationship is due to socially constructed differences between women and men (i.e. gender differences) attributable to social norms, roles, exclusions, discourses and power relations.
In other words, socio-cultural attitudes towards gender differences, not biological ones, create increased risks and vulnerabilities during situations of too much too little water. Hence, in order to reduce the risk of harm during such situations, it is important to emphasise the linkages between climate-related disasters, development and women’s social marginalisation, lack of choice and skewed power relations (UNDP, 2011). Gender blind development processes and programmes can also place women at a disadvantage (ibid.), or worse, exacerbate gendered impacts and risks.