1963-2013 - 50 years of Research for Social Change

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Back | Programme Area: Environment, Sustainable Development and Social Change

Gender, Environment and Poverty Interlinks in Rural India: Regional Variations and Temporal Shifts, 1971-1991



In India, the availability of natural resources to a large proportion of the poor rural population has been severely eroded over the past 20 years. This paper analyses the interrelationships between gender, poverty and environmental change in rural India, focusing on variations across regions and shifts over time during this period. The author briefly identifies the major factors leading to environmental degradation, then traces why and how degradation, coupled with a loss of communal property, has particularly adverse implications for women and girls in poor rural households.

These adverse class-gender effects include an increase in the time and energy that women and girls spend in fuel, fodder and water collection; a decrease in women's incomes from non-timber forest products and agriculture; an adverse effect on their health and nutrition; an erosion of women's social support networks; and a decline in their traditional knowledge of plants and species. The author maintains that the gender specificity of these effects stems from pre-existing gender inequalities in the division of labour; the intra-household distribution of subsistence resources; access to productive resources, other assets and income-earning opportunities; and participation in public decision-making forums.

The effects noted in the paper vary in form and intensity across India. The author traces these variations both descriptively and through the specification of an index for measuring gender-environment-poverty vulnerability. She finds that rural women are worst off in regions where these three dimensions of disadvantage are strong and reinforce each other, as in many parts of northern India, and especially Bihar. They are best off where all three types of disadvantage are weak, as in southern and north-east India, and especially Kerala.

The paper asserts that regions of high gender-environment-poverty vulnerability warrant special attention through schemes that give poor women greater control over economic resources, and especially over common property resources. Women's active participation in forest protection and wasteland development schemes not only improves family welfare, but also helps ensure scheme success, promotes gender equity, enlarge local knowledge systems, increases women's participation in public decision-making bodies, enhances women's bargaining power within and outside the household, and contributes to their overall empowerment.
  • Publication and ordering details
  • Pub. Date: 1 Apr 1995
    Pub. Place: Geneva
    ISSN: 1012-6511
    From: UNRISD