Women left behind
By now it’s evident that women are the demographic that’s almost always left out of development dialogues yet are always those who face the brunt of the effects of developmental problems. And in the case of the issues that climate change imposes, it’s no different either. Walapane, Nuwara Eliya is home to small holder upland farmers whose cultivations dominantly depend on the rainfall. However, with the climate crisis leading to significant and unprecedented changes in the weather—extreme swings between droughts and rainfall—have led these communities into a grave situation. As agriculture productivity slowly drops, these farmers have had no choice but to turn elsewhere for other employment to survive. This leaves women unemployed, without their own source of income, solely dependent on the male in the family or in the case of absence of such a ‘breadwinner’, completely without means of an employment.
No more worries
D. M. Janitha Darshani, is such a case in point. Without a husband or anyone to support her and her family, she took on small sewing assignments. A few blouses and jackets here and there helped her take care of her ageing parents and children. Darshani, who is now the deputy manager of the garment and textile production social enterprise in Walapane, established through the Climate Change Adaptation Project, says she and the other women in her community have never received such an opportunity to have their own source of income before. “A majority of the community here are impoverished. Many other single parents like myself take care of our parents and children by ourselves. We barely make a living by taking on small day-to-day sewing work. The only other option we had was to find a job in Colombo, which would mean leaving our children behind to fend for themselves and this is not something I want for my family. Now, being a part of this enterprise has opened new avenues of income for me and I am so grateful” Along with Darshani, 150 women in Walapane have received training on textile production, entrepreneurship, and professional certification from the Sri Lanka Institute of Textile and Apparel and the National Enterprise Development Authority. They have also been supported with the necessary machinery and infrastructure through the project. “We have never had an opportunity to capitalize on our talents before. Although we knew how to sew, these trainings have given us new ideas and designs to work with. This coupled with the trainings we received were so far out of our reach before, so having a stable income like this is such a relief. Now we don’t have to worry about all the other problems that were weighing on our minds like abandoning our families to look for work elsewhere,” says Darshani.
Unprepared for the impending crisis
Darshani, voices for many other women in the community who were struggling to make a living amidst a whole host of forces that were working against them. Her and the other women’s situations do point to plenty of lapses in policy and policy implementation. Lack of policy directive, focused on climate change and adaptation, especially in an area as vulnerable as Walapane highlights the crux of the issue—a nation wholly unprepared for the impending crisis. Although, there is a national policy on climate change, neither the government officials in the area or the communities have ever benefitted from any adaptive action before. The lack of initiative from any of the governmental institutions to identify and rectify the problems that arose because of the climate breakdown, lack of provision of viable alternative livelihood options, lack of technical support to combat the deteriorating agricultural productivity and markets beneficial to the farmers as well as lack of sustainable solutions to the rising instability of incomes are the direst of the issues. Darshani’s case shines a light on another important point; women are always left out of these developmental conversations. Empowering women to participate in the economic life is essential for sustainable development, especially in the case of the climate breakdown as women and the resources they depend on are most at risk.
Climate Resilient Livelihoods
The Climate Change Adaptation Project, together with the Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment, United Nations Development Program and World Food Program through the financial assistance of the Adaptation Fund are working towards strengthening the capacities of the local government officials, provide women like Darshani with sustainable and climate resilient livelihoods, improve overall policy and establish a platform that assists such vulnerable communities with the necessary technical support. A special focus is put forth on empowering women to withstand the effects of climate change through a strong independent income sources which would in turn empower communities.