This introduction to the special issue on "Gender and sustainable development in the mountains- Transformative innovations, tenacious resistances" by Ritu Verma et al published in the journal Mountain Research and Development, highlights the poor situation of women as well as gender discrimination, exploitation and disenfranchisement of women in the mountain regions despite gender mainstreaming efforts over the years.
The paper argues that barriers created due to climate change, globalisation, economic crisis and gender-blind developmental interventions at the institutional levels, have further worsened the situation of women and have widened the inequalities between them and men. These have created a different set of complex challenges in the mountains where they already have to struggle to survive in extremely harsh climates as compared to those living in the plains.
However, most of the gender and developmental research tends to leave out the issues of gender in relation to the people from the mountains. At the same time, research done on sustainable mountain development continues to be gender-blind. The three papers discussed identify this gap in research and attempt to explore the impacts of gender inclusive development on gender in the mountains in the Indian context.
High women's participation in developmental campaigns
This paper Mountain Women, Dams, and the Gendered Dimensions of Environmental Protest in the Garhwal Himalaya by Georgina Drew argues that sustainable developmental campaigns in the Himalayas have high participation of women. However, social movements have continued to ignore or not fully appreciate their involvement and contribution, which has led to a lack of visibility of women's specific or regional concerns and limited efforts at promoting gender sensitive and equitable environmental initiatives.
The paper highlights the efforts made by women from the mountains to save the Ganga river from hydroelectric dams by discussing the findings of an ethnographic research done from 2007 to 2010 on womens engagement in this movement. The study finds that although men take up leadership roles, women often form the base or the backbone of participation in meetings and rallies. However, inspite of their extensive contributions, women's perspectives are often not reflected and represented in developmental concerns, which impacts the ability of policy makers to respond to their demands.
The paper acknowledges the close involvement of women in the movement through their locations at different geographical and social peripheries and argues for a more gender sensitive and critical reflection in social movement campaigns and decision-making processes for gender-inclusive and sustainable developmental outcomes.
Women in positions of power are not always inclusive while taking decisions
The paper Feminist Solidarity? Women's Engagement in Politics and the Implications for Water Management in the Darjeeling Himalaya by Deepa Joshi explores the complex connections between women, water and the underlying politics of water management in the context of regions enduring water challenges.
Many a times, it is assumed that when given control of resources, women are always likely to support policies that give importance to equality, peace and sustainable development and that women have an inherent concern for nature. The paper explores these assumptions in the context of a study conducted among a diverse group of women on how they manage to address the water supply crisis in the region as women in positions of power.
The study finds that most of the women in positions of power are unable or unwilling to address the complexities of water injustices. The assumed camaraderie among women over concerns for the environment is blurred by contextual realities.
The paper argues that although women’s engagement in political positions is essential, it does not guarantee representative, inclusive politics. Women are not a uniform category and diverse groups of women can have interests and identities that can override gender or environmental concerns. Thus women in positions of power might not be interested in addressing environmental and/or gender challenges.
This is because gender concerns are at times equated with women's concerns and women’s empowerment is assumed to be 'implementable as top-down essentialism' without taking into consideration the differences among men and women in their engagement with the developmental process. The paper argues for the urgent need to move away from a narrow, apolitical, and technocratic way of defining and ‘‘doing’’ gender.
Move away from conventional indicators to assess impact of drinking water supply
The paper Shifting the focus from women to gender relations: Assessing the impacts of water supply interventions in the Morni–Shiwalik Hills of northwest India by Vishal Narain examines the impact of drinking water supply interventions on gender relations and suggests that conventional indicators such as distance walked to the source of water or time spent collecting water are insufficient when assessing the impacts of drinking water supply interventions on women.
Instead, it is important to look at the process of how such interventions can impact gender relations and change people’s expectations of how water should be used, who should collect water and for what purposes.
The paper argues that policy-makers’ and planners often restrict the assessment of water interventions to conventional indicators. However, shifting the focus from women to gender relations perspective can help capture the implications of water interventions for gender-based divisions of labor, as well as gender disaggregated aspects of domestic water use.