Traveling with ICCCAD in rural Bangladesh visiting flood prone communities was an insightful and inspiring experience to a visiting researcher like myself. Although Dhaka has its own crazy charm, coming out of the city always makes one realize what a beautiful country Bangladesh is. Intensely green, with colorful saris hanging out to dry. During our four day trip, we visited three villages, as well as several NGO project sites, held our breath in the insane traffic (as a Scandinavian just driving without a belt is a bit on the edge) and calmed down with a sigh of relieve at a great ferry boat ride on our way home. During this trip, what came to both surprise me and impress me the most, was the determination of the women we met.
A paradox of inclusion
After spending the most of the first day traveling, we spent the second day visiting the village Gurguria in Bagerhat, a village where the traditional livelihood was farming on land. With increased environmental stressors however, mainly the increase of saline water, the whole area shifted to shrimp farming about 15 years ago. Before this shift in livelihoods, women were not included in the work force of the village, but stayed at home. With the shift of livelihoods however, more hands were needed, and the women started contributing to the shrimp farming as well. In the village, all the children goes to school. This gives the women time to work, creating a reinforcing mechanism between women’s work and children’s school attendance. Quite paradoxically, the increased challenges that environment has caused upon this community, seem to have lead to an increased inclusion of women.
A floating bed
A similar story was told in Mitradanga in Gopalganj. This community is prone to flooding by the nearby river, a challenge that has lead the community to invent new evacuation plans and adaption strategies. During normal flooding years, the community is resilient, due to elevated houses. However, some years the flooding can be severe, and for these situations we were told that the village has a detailed evacuation plan. Amazingly, they will use so-called «floating beds» made up of floating plants, to evacuate on (see picture). These fleets are strong enough to bring even cows along!
Changing the mindset
The community had a women’s climate change adaption group, consisting of women from Mitradanga and other nearby villages. They explained that earlier, women were not allowed to attend discussions regarding important decisions to the community. This has changed however, and now they are taking part in such discussions – especially so in discussions regarding adaption to increased environmental stressors. When asked what had changed, the women explained that an NGO had come to work in the village, talking to the men and changing their mindset. The men had come to accept that women should be included in discussion and decision-making about challenges faced by the community.
However, the women also explained that although they now have the skills to contribute, and are eager to do so, they are still expected to take full responsibility for the home and the children, which constrains their time and prevent them from contributing with their knowledge. A women stood up and said: «please do not forget us, as female researchers – focus on the women’s issues. It is important». This I will do. Not because women are more vulnerable to climate change than men, but because women are key actors for climate change adaptation.
To learn from the best
I was impressed by the capacities of these local communities, and again, especially so by their women. They are aware of their situation. They are not passive in their community. They are entrepreneurs. They are ready to make an effort. And we have much to learn from them.
By: Kathinka Evertsen, Visiting Researcher, ICCCAD July Newsletter 2014