International climate change debates are often based upon simplistic assumptions of how men and women perceive and address risks and uncertainty. For instance, women are commonly portrayed as a homogenous group who are always more vulnerable than men to climate change simply because they are women. Yet the relationship between gender, poverty and vulnerability is neither straightforward, nor universal (Arora-Jonsson, 2011).
Just to illustrate, in some areas of Nepal it was found that poor women from landless households are more likely to attend community meetings and speak up because they feel less constrained by social norms than women from higher class and caste (Agarwal, 2010). They have therefore a higher capability to influence community decisions that might affect their vulnerability.
Debates shape the way scientists and policy-makers develop strategies, practices and tools for people at risk to best cope with environmental change and extreme weather events. It is therefore crucial to provide to policy-makers contextually grounded accounts of men and women’s experience of climate change.
Participatory videos (PVs) have the potential to bridge the communication gap between non- or less literate individuals and policy-makers due to its non-written form. It offers the opportunity for vulnerable men and women to raise their voices and share their perceptions and knowledge with a large and diverse audience.
Contrarily to conventional research, which is sometimes extractive and driven by researchers’ agenda and framings, PVs allow marginalized groups and individuals to take the lead and decide which messages they want to convey and how. But beyond a communication tool, PVs are also more critically an empowering process whereby men and women build self-confidence in reflecting upon their lives, expressing their ideas and advocating for improved well-being.
With the support of the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), Nepal Office led a pilot PVs project in collaboration with Rural Self Reliance Development Center (RSDC) in Thadhi Jhijha Village Development Committee (VDC) of Dhanusha District, Eastern Terai of Nepal in November 2012.
As other districts in the Eastern Terai region, Dhanusha District holds both: a high index of human sensitivity to climate change and a high risk for floods and a very high risk for drought (Ministry of Environment – Government of Nepal, 2010). The area is also marked by a high rate of labour migration for foreign employment – in the selected VDC, 80 per cent of the household have at least one man abroad (focus group discussion, fieldwork January 2013).
A group of 12 women from Thadhi Jhijha VDC learnt the basics of video production during three days with Preeya Nair, a professional film-maker from Art for Change Trust. They interviewed themselves on how environmental change has affected their livelihoods and directed a short film highlighting two selected stories. In these stories, they voice their concerns over issues which they feel have most affected them as women: the impact of climatic variability on crops and vegetation, men’s migration and women’s status and decision-making power in the village or access to groundwater for irrigation. They also remind us how the weather and seasons are embedded within cultural and religious practices.
The training and videoing process was documented visually by an independent film-maker, to record women’s reactions to this new experience. More than women’s words, the visible emotion on their face clearly conveys the self-confidence and sense of pride women have gained through this short experience:
The films were screened in the village, in a district-level workshop with the presidents from the 12 cooperatives of the district, in a national workshop on aid effectiveness in Kathmandu and in a research meeting at IWMI HQ in Sri Lanka. Among the local audience, some found that, although the issues raised in the films were known from them and were part of their everyday lives, the films made them realize that they were important.
Because a one-off project has very limited impacts in terms of local social change or advocacy, the research team will build on this experience to start a long term initiative, whereby a group of men and a group of women will receive further training and produce independently 2-3 films over one year. The films will reflect upon the various experiences of environmental change and adaptation throughout the different seasons across different social groups (e.g. based upon gender, class, caste, ethnicity, religion).
The newly trained film-makers will also explore how men and women make decisions within their households on livelihood strategies (e.g. on cropping and irrigation, migration, income diversification) and what do they value most when making such decisions: e.g. whether growing their own food is important.
The objective is that after the project, these men and women will have gained sufficient technical skills and confidence to become local journalists and continue reporting on other issues. The project also intends to connect them across advocacy networks to raise their voices at the national and international level.
Watch the final video production, directed by the group of 12 women. They interviewed themselves on how climate has affected their livelihoods:
Agarwal, B. (2010) 'Does Women's Proportional Strength Affect their Participation? Governing Local Forests in South Asia', World Development, 38, (1), pp. 98-112.
Arora-Jonsson, S. (2011) 'Virtue and Vulnerability: Discourses on women, gender and climate change', Global Environmental Change, 21, (2), pp. 744-751.
Ministry of Environment - Government of Nepal. (2010) Climate Change Vulnerability Mapping for Nepal. Kathmandu.
Written by Floriane Clement, researcher in institutional and policy analysis at the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), Nepal office. Learn more about our activities in South Asia by following us on Twitter and Facebook.