Women’s fight on the climate front

A story of entrepreneurs from Dacope

Samia Mallik | Published: December 14, 2018 21:17:18

Shila Bawali and Suchitra Biswas

Climate change has a greater impact on those sections of the population, in all countries, that are most dependent on natural resources for their livelihoods and/or who have the least capacity to respond to natural hazards, such as droughts, landslides, floods and cyclones. Women commonly face higher risks and greater burdens from the impacts of climate change in situations of poverty, and their participation in decision-making processes and labour markets compound inequalities and often prevent them from fully contributing to climate-related planning, policy-making and implementation.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and its annual Conferences of the Parties (COPs), which constitute the main decision-making body of the Convention, are an important instrument of international cooperation in the field of tackling the impacts of climate change.

Held annually, the 24th meet of COPs began this year on December 2, where promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women will be a key component.

It is here, where women's role in tackling climate change will be shared, promoting their local knowledge of and leadership in e.g. sustainable resource management and/or leading sustainable practices at the household and community level.

Till date, there are countless examples of women's inclusion at the local level which has led to improved outcomes of climate -- related projects and policies in developing countries. It is now, that policies or projects should start including women's meaningful participation in decision making authority and leadership fully -- decreasing existing inequalities and increasing effectiveness.

35-year-old Shila Bawali is a woman who has been working determinedly over the past few years to contribute to her community -- responding to her community people's needs and increasing cooperation across her village. Residing in one of the most climate change -- affected coastal areas of the country, she has taken a step in making safe drinking water an accessible right for everyone around her.

Visiting her village Khona Khatail in the Pankhali union of Dacope upazila, Khulna, the effects of climate change are highly visible through low-lying areas, stretches of dry and barren land, salinity intrusion in ground and surface water, and an increased expanse of poor households. It is recently that villagers have started rebuilding their houses, and cultivating their lands using advanced saline water-resistant processes. However, scarcity of salinity -- free drinking water continues to be a steady crisis here.

Shila lives with her two children and owns a small grocery shop in the village outskirts -- her main source of income. Managing her children, carrying out daily household work, and running the shop -- all of this was a constant and tiring routine for Shila. But what troubled her the most was the regular sickness that her children and adults of the community would suffer from -- skin allergies, stomach problems and water-borne diseases; this is due to daily consumption of unsafe water from their only water source -- ponds and canals.

This needed to be mended. And after months of discussions and knocking on doors, Shila was successful in building a 45-member women's association called "Khona Khatail Mahila Samity" -- where she along with 16 others currently act as contributing members.

Through this association, these confident women help their own community in reducing daily life difficulties. But what needed to be done first was fulfil the core purpose this association was set up for - a sustainable and reliable supply of safe water.

WaterAid and HSBC have been working in nine unions of the Dacope upazila for four years now, providing water, sanitation and hygiene services to people living in the communities there. Shila with her other contributing members approached local project staff on ground after finding out WaterAid and HSBC's work, sharing their water problem and seeking a solution. After multiple meetings and a clarity in the community's needs, Shila was successful in actively motivating her village residents and generating an O&M fund for the installation of a Reverse Osmosis Plant that WaterAid and HSBC agreed to set up in her village, aiding to solve the safe drinking water crisis they faced. In addition to fund collection and advocating the plant, Shila also took a major step in donating a part of her land in the name of her association for the construction of the plant.

Later, after months of construction and coordination with project staff, the plant was finally inaugurated at Shila's village Khona Khotail on December 3. Shila and her association members, local project staff, WaterAid and HSBC representatives, and people from her community and village were present on the day.

Through this plant, salinity will be removed from ground water, making it safe and pure to drink for over 1300 residents of Khona Khotail. Not only limited to Shila's community, the water will also be available for local people and people from other communities at a very low-price compared to other commercial vendors, making it affordable for everyone. Shila also plans to sell this water at nearby restaurants in the village market so that everyone is benefitted and she can have an additional income source.

How does Shila feel on this success? She shares how she foresees her daily life to be much relaxed with less time spent in household work -- mostly on chores related to water. She is excited to serve more customers in her shop and succeed in life, also eager to witness her community thrive with new hopes and lesser sickness.

As the UNFCCC COPs celebrate women's perspectives, experiences and knowledge on a global platform, lets applaud women like Shila who take on new challenges and risks in their hectic lives, and solve crisises that are not created by them but can surely be solved by them.

Email: SamiaMallik@wateraid.org

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