529. Fighting climate change – with gender equality

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Country: Myanmar
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Myanmar is third most vulnerable to the effects of climate change in the world. A We Effect and Mern project support women and men to work together to overcome the challenges.

It’s not an iceberg the size of New York crashing into the ocean, a massive forest threatening a California city, or a starving polar bear. Climate change in Myanmar is less dramatic, from a news perspective. But the consequences are ever so serious.

Climate change here in the state of Shan is farmer Daw Aye Kywal digging deep for some potato to sell, while her 6-year old son is playing with a football in the muddy field.

Despite her relentless work on this lush mountain slope, despite having to borrow money to pay for fertilizer and new top-soil, the land is just not paying her back.

It rained too much, at the wrong time, and bad potatoes soon outnumbered the good ones.

– Most of my potatoes were rotten this year. I have lost so much, says Daw Aye Kywal.

Buying new football shoes, and putting food on the table, just got even harder.

Myanmar is third most vulnerable to the effects of climate change in the world, according to Global Climate Change Index 2016. In many areas, like Southern Shan state, irregular rains are expected to alternate with longer periods of drought, making it even more challenging for the country’s largely rural population to grow crops and earn a living.

All the farmers I visit sadly confirm what Daw Aye Kywal and the research are saying. Climate change is hitting Myanmar today. And it’s affecting people´s livelihoods fast and ferociously.

And no one suffers more from climate change than women in poverty. In vulnerable and unequal societies, women’s ability to own land, educate themselves and earn their own money is hampered. The women are thus poorly equipped to come back after a flood or poor harvest, and are often dependent on men for their survival.

Mom of two, Daw Su Su, unfortunately, knows all about this.

– I am borrowing money from a rich man in our village to pay for food, I now owe 400 000 Kyat , explains Daw Su Su, sitting on the floor in her one-room home.

Seven months ago, her 35-year old husband passed away. Many years of drinking every day killed the main provider in the family. “Most men around here drink a lot”, a neighbor explains.

To survive, Daw Su Su now picks up casual work from land-owning farmers around the village. Pulling weeds with her bare hands for a full day gives her 3000 Kyat, less than 2 dollars.

That’s the lowest daily salary in all of Myanmar and the surrounding region, according to a new report from the World Bank.

Decreasing harvests, due to climate change, also means less days of work and ultimately an even lower yearly income.

Daw Su Su:s debt of 400 000 Kyat already translates to 133 days of work. Not accounting for food, clothes, and other expenses that a single mom with two daughters has.

If she was a man, she would “only” have to work 80 days to repay the debt.

In Myanmar, a man earns up to twice as much as a woman for a day of farming, farmers we meet explain

– Men are stronger than women, that’s why they are getting more paid, a community leader we met said.

That traditional idea of what women and men are capable of does not ring true a few miles over, in the next valley.

Mrs( Daw) Kyin Toe is 85 years old. As a Myanmar (Burmese) woman, she is considered less suitable for physical labour, and earns much less than a man for a day’s hard labour.

Everyone that could watch her seasoned and strong arms take on those weeds on that field of flowers would understand that she is as strong as human beings come.

– I have worked here all my life, says Daw Kyin Toe as she continues to reap the weeds.

Together with Mern;A Myanmar local NGO, We Effect launched a project to address the issues of climate change and gender inequality in Southern Shan State. For the past year, 3500 small-holder farmers, organised in cooperatives or producer groups, has gotten training to adapt to climate change, by for example growing more rain-resistant potato and planting trees along fields, that stop soil erosion and make the soil more fertile.

The project was also designed to support women to become leaders in their communities and find better and more sustainable sources of incomes. Hired farmer Ma Ngel is also dependent on casual work for her livelihoods. Today she is picking(plucking) tea. But she is also a leader in one of the women groups that will get support from the new project.

– The groups are giving women hope and make us stronger. Together we can get vocational training to pursue other jobs than casual farming. I would like to start a hair salon, Ma Ngel, explains while picking(plucking) leaf after leaf, filling up her basket.

An instrumental part of the project is to engage men in the activities that promote women entrepreneur- and leadership. A common misunderstanding is that gender equality is only about including women. Working together to fight climate change and achieve gender equality is of essence for a better future in Myanmar.

– This is a big challenge in Myanmar. Including women is not that difficult but addressing gender inequality and perception about gender norms are ( need some verb or no need??). A gendered division of labour is very prominent and traditionally men dominate both in decision making and ownership, , says Kristofer Karlson, programme advisor for We Effect in Myanmar. ( I accepted that men get more pay for daily in labor markets, however I don’t accept the ownership because nowadays women can share the land ownership with her husband. I do not understand what he means in ownsership)

Since men and women hold different roles in their societies, most often they also have different views or experiences about the consequences of climate change, as well as methods of adaptation.

– We believe that involving both women and men is a win-win, and if we can bridge this gap we are better prepared to fight climate change, says Kristofer Karlson.

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