Connecting the spots

Notes on migration and environment from a geographical perspective



DECCMA analyzes the impacts of climate change and other environmental drivers and processes of migration across contrasting deltas in Africa and Asia. The project study sites are the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna delta (Bangladesh and India), Mahanadi delta (India) and Volta delta (Ghana). The India team consists of Jadavpur University, Centre for Environment and Development, Chilika Development Authority (Orissa), SANSRITI, Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur (IITK), and the National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC).

Dec 8th 2015 by DECCMA India

Half the Problem, Half the Solution. Why women’s perspectives need to be considered in climate migration research

This year, COP21 in Paris has placed a particular focus on gender, with 8 December 2015 marking Gender Day. As advocates lobby for marginalized voices to be integrated into key climate decisions, there are some useful perspectives to keep in mind. The Deltas, Vulnerability & Climate Change: Migration & Adaptation (DECCMA) project – one of four projects in the Collaborative Adaptation Research in Africa and Asia programme (funded by Canada’s International Development Research Center) – researches men’s and women’s opinions and perspectives in regard to stress-migration and its driving forces, and has some insights to share.

The importance of applying a gender lens was recently highlighted in a DECCMA workshop, when men and women cited very different perceptions of the reasons for migration, having discussed them in gender-disaggregated groups. Pervasive gender inequality means that, if women and men discuss issues together, it is likely that the men’s voices will be more dominant. In this case, there is the danger that they are not the perceptions of everyone. Hence, we run the risk that if we only identify half the problem, then we will only be able to find half the solution.

Kendrapara is a district in the Indian state of Odisha, situated in the Mahanadi river delta. Fifteen women and nine men from the district participated in discussions to elicit reasons for stress-migration and recommendations to reduce it.  Migration is led by men, who may migrate alone or take their whole family. Women largely only migrate in the latter case (or for marriage) – and rarely in their own right.

Women’s perceptions of the reasons for migration related to the lack of formal sector job opportunities, inadequacies in education and health facilities, and the lack of drinking water. Men’s perceptions of the reasons for migration were primarily to do with the decreasing viability of agricultural livelihoods-which they attributed to coastal and riverbank erosion and salinization-although they also mentioned the lack of formal sector job opportunities.

These differences mirror the social constructions of gender roles and how it affects the way women and men perceive stress factors. As in many other places, in Kendrapara, women’s roles are primarily related to the management of the household and family members-so it is not surprising that these are reflected in the causes they give for migration.  At the same time they are concerned with healthcare and education for family members – so the absence of these would be another cause for migration. The lack of paid formal employment opportunities reduces the likelihood of improvement in household incomes and well-being.

Men’s roles, on the other hand, are often synonymous with being the breadwinner who provides for the household. Agricultural livelihoods predominate in Kendrapara, and so it is logical that anything that threatens production levels can be a driver of migration. They outlined that paddy cultivation is declining due to saline water intrusion, and that the changing rainfall patterns are impeding the ability to irrigate. This means that farmers are forced to shift to mono-cropping which reduces their annual returns. Several examples were cited of villages where people had migrated due to coastal erosion and riverbank erosion. 

Since the perception of the stress factors seems to reflect women’s and men’s gendered roles, it is possible to infer the solutions that may be required to reduce the stress factors. Since women’s voices have likely been marginalized relative to those of men in previous discussions, it is not surprising that responses have largely addressed men’s perceptions.

Projects implemented to date include raising the height of the saline embankment, and installation of a geo-tube sea wall to prevent coastal erosion. These responses have been undertaken by the Government of Odisha and the World Bank-funded Integrated Coastal Zone Management Program. There has also been an improvement in sanitation under the Total Sanitation campaign led by various government departments. 

These hard infrastructure solutions clearly address men’s perceptions of stress factors, because they address agriculture-related stresses. Women’s solutions include a better school, and training and facilitation of income-generating schemes (including improved access to microfinance for their self-help groups). In particular they noted that most attempts at this so far had been targeted towards men, and not towards them.

If only half the problem is identified (i.e. that perceived by men), then there will inevitably only ever be half a solution. This has implications because, in addressing men’s concerns relative to women’s, it may reduce the drivers of stress migration perceived by men, but not those perceived by women. When the underlying causes of the stress are inferred, this runs the risk of reinforcing and further undermining gender equality. Hence, both men’s and women’s opinions and perspectives need to be sought in migration research to enable equitable responses to stresses.

Image Credits: Portrait of young woman. India, World Bank // Group of Indian Women, World Bank // Woman with Red Shaol, Chandni Chowk - Old Delhi, Chris Goldberg.