Norms, Practices, and Gendered Vulnerabilities in the Lower Teesta Basin, Bangladesh
Bangladesh is one of the countries most vulnerable to climate change. Gendered vulnerability and its implications for people’s ability to cope with and adapt to climatic stressors was investigated in four poor rural communities in Dimla, Kaunia, Hatibandha, and Patgram upazilas (sub-districts) in Rangpur division in the lower Teesta basin area in northwest Bangladesh. These areas are strongly affected by seasonal floods, flash floods, river bank erosion, and drought throughout the year. Socioeconomic stressors coupled with these climatic stressors lead to a high level of gendered vulnerability among the villagers, which is likely to be exacerbated in extreme climatic situations. Asymmetrical gender divisions make women disproportionately vulnerable and decrease their coping and adaptive capacity in changed situations. The study showed that women are the most vulnerable amongst vulnerable groups, not simply as a result of their gender roles and responsibilities, but more as a result of discriminatory social norms and practices such as lack of property ownership, lack of education, early marriage, the dowry system, and acceptance of domestic violence against women, which further create barriers to women’s mobility and economic empowerment. Women are conditioned to remain at home and not participate, or to wait for men to accompany them to most activities taking place in the public space. Although significant numbers of women have been engaging in income generating activities, creating cooperative funds, and saving money, this is still within the confines of their private space. Government policy to empower women through free education is partly effective but the dominant patriarchal practice of early marriage and dowry discourage women from coming forward. The study concludes that the prevalent gender discriminatory norms and practices must be addressed to achieve gender transformative change, which is an essential requirement for gender equity and inclusive social development. Government policies and programs should be revised to address women’s practical and strategic needs for gender transformative change.