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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Feminist Environment

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The monopoly of the state on natural resources was established during the British rule. It was during that period that the state established monopoly control over forests, reserved large tracts for timber extraction, restricted the customary rights of local populations to natural resources, and encouraged commercially profitable species of crops at the cost of species used by the local populations. Earlier, all the villagers, irrespective of gender had some rights of collection of many basic items including firewood, fodder, medicinal herbs, building materials, and fruits of wild plants and trees, and vegetables as well. Almost 90 percent of the firewood and about 70 percent of the fodder used to be collected by the poor, especially by ladies, from the village commons (VCs) until very recently. The subsistence provisioning was supplied by the forests up to that period.

The area of VCs declined dramatically in many different parts of India with illegal encroachments and distribution of land to individuals by the government under various land reform and antipoverty programmes. It has been reported repeatedly that up to 80per cent of the distributed land during these programmes went to the people already having sufficient land (The Hindu Survey of Environment, 2005).

Thus the poor had to loose collectively while gaining individually. Here it can be concluded that the processes of statisation and privatization concentrated natural resources only in the hands of a few people, and contributed to their depletion by undermining traditional institutional arrangements of community resources, their use and management which was popular in many regions of the country.

The above mentioned processes affected the poor severely, but not equally to every one among poor also. Landless and the land-poor families located in environmentally high risk areas such as those inhabiting hills and semi-arid plains were affected most severely. If we observe more closely, we see that the negative effects of these processes were and are being, borne by women and the female children- very disproportionately. This is seen in the forms of – unequal gender division of labour, gender inequalities in the intra- household distribution of available resources, gender inequalities in access to productive resources, women’s unequal access to knowledge systems, and women’s unequal access to decision making processes.

The depletion of natural resources has been striking over these pre-existing inequalities. In poor households, it is women and female children who have domestic responsibilities of collecting firewood, fodder, and other resources. In the event of decline of forests and VCs, the time and energy of females only have to be extended. But, how can the time and energy be expanded?

The time taken for the collection of firewood, fodder, and even water has increased manifold. Since these responsibilities are taken up by women and girl children and men do none of these activities at all, it is the life of women and girl children which is bound to become miserable. On the other hand the depletion of forests and VCs has reduced the income of rural ladies who used to earn from the collected or gathered items. Secondly, these have affected the cattle dependent livelihood also. The extra time and energy needed for collection of resources from distant areas have cut the time for crop production. The large scale migration of men and girl children (in their school ages), the women who remain left at homes have to take up all the responsibilities of agriculture, collection of resources, rearing of cattle, and all the others.

The large scale migration of men and girl children (in their school ages), the women who remain left at homes have to take up all the responsibilities of agriculture, collection of resources, rearing of cattle, and all the others.

The reasons explained above create immense pressure on women and even school going girls, especially the tribal girls of Jharkhand, and North- eastern regions of India. One can see a number of school going tribal girls transplanting paddy seedlings in crop fields in Jharkhand. Such ladies at home have to support the families even at the costs of their health, and schooling. Here we observe that tribal girls of poor rural families have no way to go to schools. They have to work in fields, at construction sites in the form of laborers, in houses as maids, or at brick-kilns located in some other state under greedy and criminal minded agents.

The face of Environmental- feminism
(Photo credit- The Hindu Survey of Environment 2005)

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