Consequences of climate change—floods, droughts, extreme weather, declining agricultural production—affect everyone. But in many developing countries, shifting temperature and precipitation patterns are making life especially hard for women and families. A new documentary, Weathering Change, tells the stories of women around the world who are shouldering a disproportionate share of the burden of climate change. Here are their stories.
Kathmandu Valley, Nepal
For as long as Ramkeshari Shrethsa could remember, it would start, like clockwork, every June. Then, a few years ago, she had to wait until August. Last year, August came and went. She was still waiting.
“Everyone here waits for the rainfall,” Ramkeshari says. “Everyone has his eyes on the sky.”
In Nepal, the very concept of a “rainy season” has become outdated as the climate has changed and weather patterns have become increasingly erratic. Without regular rainfall, the crops ripen differently, and often fail. Ramkeshari , 42, remembers being pulled out of school for weeks as a child because rice paddies had to be planted. Now, many of the farms on the outskirts of Kathmandu are gone, replaced by roads and buildings. Those that still exist are struggling. People are looking elsewhere for work and income.
“We can’t grow and eat from our farms like we used to do before,” Ramkeshari says. “People have to face hunger and other problems relating to health and education. We don’t get to have a quality life.”
As harvests suffer, husbands move to the cities to find work, and families are separated. Women must walk farther to fetch water and firewood, and find ways to get by with less as they cook and care for children. “They start working right after they wake up and continue on until it is time for them to sleep,” Ramkeshari says.
Dealing with changes beyond their control, women in Ramkeshari’s community are taking control of what they can: their own childbearing.“If people start using contraceptives, then many problems will get condensed,” she explains. “Women are eager. They realize that it is for their own health.”
Family planning is just one tool to help families adapt, together with education, sustainable agriculture and environmental conservation.When their reproductive health needs are met, women are healthier and have healthier children. Being able to choose to delay pregnancy also increases their prospects for completing school and accessing greater economic opportunities.
Ramkeshari sees these positive outcomes in her own daughter, Renu, a college student who hopes to pursue a career in the family planning field. “Times have changed,” Renu says, explaining that many women now want fewer children so that “the resources from the environment are adequate for everyone.”
She and her mother are optimistic, but know things could get harder. The world’s growing population, which will surpass 7 billion people next month, will only increase demands on natural resources and magnify climate challenges.
“I hope that her future will be good,” Ramkeshari says, smiling at her daughter. “But I don’t know for sure what tomorrow is going to bring.”
Ramkeshari’s story was featured in PSI’s Impact Magazine.