Making It Happen: Empowering Women from the Mountains

Monday, 9 March, 2015 - 10:49

Message from the Director General for International Women’s Day 2015 
(Kathmandu, 8 March 2015)

Each year on 8 March, organizations and individuals around the globe come together to honour women’s struggle for social and economic equality and celebrate their tremendous contribution to society. At ICIMOD, this is an important opportunity to not only acknowledge the valuable contributions of women staff at ICIMOD, but also share and promote practices that the Centre has adopted for supporting women's rights and gender equality in the region.

In the mountains of the Hindu Kush Himalayas, women, have a unique relationship with their environment. As household managers, they play a critical role in sustaining and managing important environmental resources, with a rich bank of distinctive skills and knowledge. However, they are often more vulnerable and disproportionately affected by the environmental consequences of climate change and natural resource degradation. Achieving sustainable development in the Hindu Kush Himalayan region will require us to confront and transform the condition of women, and to continue down a path toward gender equality.

ICIMOD recognizes that its vision – that the ‘men, women, and children of the Hindu Kush Himalayas enjoy improved wellbeing in a healthy mountain environment’ – calls for change both within the institution and across the region to ensure that women and men have equal access to opportunities that will make this vision possible. International Women’s Day gives us the opportunity to collectively reflect on the challenges that women face, to discuss potential opportunities for action, and to take stock of what we, as an institution, have done to support gender equality.

In line with this year's International Women’s Day theme – ‘Making It Happen’ – ICIMOD is working to empower the women of the mountains, through the development and sharing of innovations, lessons, and best practices in social, political, economic, and technological fields. On International Women’s Day last year, I outlined several activities that would be undertaken at the Centre to support gender transformative change, and I am proud to say that we have made all of those happen.

Beginning in June 2014, ICIMOD has organized a series of gender sensitivity trainings to raise awareness within the institution of the implicit and explicit gender biases at the workplace, and to encourage all staff to work toward creating a gender-sensitive work environment. So far, nine trainings sessions have taken place, with two more planned to provide all staff with an opportunity to attend. To ensure the continuation of gender sensitivity and other gender-related trainings, we have included a session on gender during the orientation programme new staff are required to attend.

To tap into the potential of the women scientists and professionals working at ICIMOD and in our partner institutions, to increase institutional performance, and to increase the number of women in decision making positions, ICIMOD has developed a regional Women’s Leadership Training programme. In January 2015, ICIMOD staff came together with representatives from some of our partners institutions to participate in the training, titled ‘Reframing Leadership for Women and Men for Gender Equality’. Men were also included in the training, as men can become important allies within organizations to support women to emerge as leaders. This year, ten women and six men participated in the training; we hope to see these numbers grow with each training we organize.

We continue to make conscious efforts to ensure women are invited as active participants at all of our conferences, although we also recognize there still more progress to be made. At last year’s flagship international conference on Mountain People Adapting to Change, 76 participants (28%) were women, and 21 of the conference’s speakers were women. Unfortunately, we did not meet our target that 30% of participants are women, and will put additional focus on this while planning meetings in the future. In addition, gender issues were integrated and reflected on in almost all of the conference sessions to highlight its cross-cutting importance. The conference also provided a platform for the next generation of scientists and professionals from the region, and we are proud that four of the five young professionals awarded for their poster presentation were women.

ICIMOD also undertakes activities that work to empower women living in the Hindu Kush Himalayas. In 2014, ICIMOD provided support to the Himalayan Women Welfare Society, which organized an expedition to K2 in Pakistan, called ‘Women Climbing for Climate Change’. The climb to the second highest peak in the world was undertaken by three young Nepali women climbers dedicated to demonstrating the strength of women and the potential for positive change. This support symbolizes ICIMOD’s commitment to integrate women into climate change research and adaptation, and sustainable development in the Himalayas, as well as to further gender equity and gender transformative change.

In addition to recognizing the extraordinary strength of women in the region, ICIMOD is also working to help address the challenges they face. Through its initiative on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+), ICIMOD has distributed 284 biogas and 1,490 improved cookstoves in pilot sites in Nepal. Over 1,774 women in rural communities have benefitted from the introduction of these new technologies, which both help to protect important natural resources as well as to reduce the physical burden on women who are often responsible for collecting fuelwood.

Together with our partners, we are working to ensure that, in line with ICIMOD’s Gender and Equity Policy, gender becomes an integral component of all of ICIMOD’s programme activities, rather than just an optional ‘add on’ to ‘work as usual’. In addition to pilot activities focusing on building the capacity of women to improve their livelihoods, the Kailash Sacred Landscape Conservation and Development Initiative organized training for partner representatives and ICIMOD staff on gender integrated planning, which helps to ensure that gender integration goes beyond the project cycle. The Himalayan Adaptation, Water and Resilience (HI-AWARE) initiative, a consortium of five partners, has initiated research that systematically addresses social change and power relations by examining how underlying gender norms, behaviours, and structures lead to inequality. By engaging with communities from a gender and equity perspective, the research will encourage gender and social transformation.

Engagement with our partners on gender issues is an important path to promote more comprehensive and integrated research across the region. Research under the Himalayan Climate Change Adaptation Programme (HICAP) on gender issues and climate change in Yunnan is an emerging area of study in China. Under this research, our partner, the Yunnan Academy of Social Sciences (YASS), has integrated climate change into gender and migration studies for the first time. The collaboration between ICIMOD and YASS has brought new lenses and approaches to the way YASS examines gender issues in climate change adaptation, and it has become the key focus of their own work.

In addition, ICIMOD is developing an innovative Himalayan Integrated GIS (HI-GIS) Framework, which will combine geospatial tools with gender-disaggregated household-level demographic information and other data to provide added strength to understanding and decision support to gender-related issues. ICIMOD is digitizing social and economic survey data to feed into the framework, including data from regional member countries as well as ICIMOD’s own poverty, vulnerability, and adaptive capacity assessments. Once developed, it will be a strong tool for effectively analysing social and economic data in conjunction with diverse contexts, including biophysical, geographical, and environmental context and aspects related to accessibility, which can support gender inclusive and sensitive decision making at all levels.

ICIMOD continues to prioritize activities that make it a positive example in the region for women’s rights and equality. However, we recognize that more steps must be taken. On this International Women’s Day, ICIMOD reaffirms its commitment to bringing about gender transformative change in the Hindu Kush Himalayas by working with partners, investing our resources, and continuing to initiate innovative approaches, practices, and research to improve the quality of life for women living in the region.

Wishing you all a happy International Women’s Day!

David Molden

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