Even if it’s a small step, I feel like I can start somewhere now, and that this is just the start.
When She Leads: Shadhika’s Climate Change Initiative
By Vanita Ganesh, Digital Media Coordinator
December 21, 2022Reading Time: 21 minutes
This edition of the When She Leads will celebrate girl leadership at the forefront of climate action in India. The interview is a conversation between Climate Change Initiative Fellow Nitika, the Initiative’s consultant Sayantoni Dutta, and Vanita Ganesh, Shadhika’s Digital Media Coordinator.
Nitika is a Shadhika Scholar with a background in journalism and law. She is a program participant with our partner site Sahiyar, in Gujarat. Nitika participated in Shadhika’s Climate Change Initiative Internship as a Climate Change Fellow.
Sayantoni Datta is a social and philanthropic researcher specializing in transformative community organizing alongside marginalized groups by designing solution-oriented interventions and advocacy. She worked as a consultant with Shadhika’s Climate Change Initiative Internship.
At Shadhika, we have had many conversations on the climate crisis, its gendered consequences, and the need for gender-centric solutions. We’ve showcased these conversations during the recent International Day of the Girl Live on Instagram, our International Women’s Day Live in March where Nitika was a panelist too, and through recent blog posts. This is also a conversation that mainstream coverage is catching up to. We want to spend time today taking this conversation forward to see what goes into making girl leadership (in climate action) a reality, and what climate action would look like if intersectionality and representation had a say along with political interests.
Here are some excerpts from the interview:
I still feel like there’s so much to do. Before, I’d feel like these are such big issues related to climate change, what can I do? But now, after this fellowship, I feel like I can actually do something. Even if it’s a small step, I feel like I can start somewhere now, and that this is just the start. This (Fellowship) is a means for me to carry my thoughts and actions forward. After the Fellowship I have realized that I still have a lot to do (for climate justice).
NITIKA, CLIMATE CHANGE FELLOW AND SHADHIKA ALUM
Hopefully, women leadership will begin to bring in more inclusive approaches. We are obviously not going to only have women doing this kind of work. It should be something that includes men and boys. But through this inclusion of women’s perspective, we are looking at more diverse, more equal and more inclusive kind of projects and initiatives emerging on the ground. This means better designed technologies and solutions so that there is no gap, especially when we are looking at the issues of grassroots women who are dealing with deep, entrenched patriarchal situations. Also dealing with the whole issue of women and work, unpaid work, and caregiving- all issues that women work with.
SAYANTONI, CONSULTANT WITH THE SHADHIKA CLIMATE CHANGE INITIATIVE
During my time with Sahiyar, because of already existing climate-related activities and Rohit bhai Prajapati, an environmental activist, we had the exposure to climate change and related issues. My dream, inspired by Sayantoni (and the Fellowship) was to work with Rohit bhai and his team and I got the chance to! What I was not able to do before the Fellowship I could, because of Shadhika and Sayantoni.
NITIKA, CLIMATE CHANGE FELLOW AND SHADHIKA ALUM
We are just cogs in the big system working within our own areas of influence. When we come together, it will help us see the whole system better, and understand how we can intervene from our different areas. Transformative change is possible when people working in various parts of that same initiative come together and make the chain. It will not be possible for just one person to do it.
SAYANTONI, CONSULTANT WITH THE SHADHIKA CLIMATE CHANGE INITIATIVE
Watch the whole interview and access the transcript here:
Read the whole transcript here:
Thank you Sayantoni and Nitika, for taking the time to talk to us on a Saturday!
We’ve spoken in the past about climate change, especially this Climate Change Initiative. This time we want to explore in-depth what ‘girl-leadership’ in the climate action sphere looks like, and why it is important that young women and girls not only participate in this movement but lead it.
Nitika, you’ve spoken to us about the Initiative and your work during this year’s Women’s Day and IDG Lives, and about your interest and passion. We want to show Shadhika’s supporters what girl leadership looks like to you specifically, and what it’s been like working (with the community) on these issues.
Nitika: I want to say that working with Sahiyar and people around me was very comfortable because everyone knew me and how I work. That was my comfort zone. But in my college, when we were taken to an NSS camp, it was a new place and a new experience. I decided that I would combine the work I did with the Climate Change Initiative and spread awareness here. This was outside my comfort zone, and it was challenging to make children understand and convince them (about climate action). It was a difficult experience because we were made fun of and the children weren’t getting convinced. But moving out of one’s comfort zone is always challenging.
But this was a new start for me. I was able to travel to another city, especially a rural area, and could work there.
Before the Climate Initiative project and after it, did you see any difference in yourself and the difference in how you would talk to children and adults?
During my time with Sahiyar, because of already existing climate-related activities and Rohit bhai Prajapati, an environmental activist, we had exposure to climate change and related issues. My dream, inspired by Sayantoni (and the Fellowship) was to work with Rohit bhai and his team and I got the chance to! What I was not able to do before the Fellowship I could, because of Shadhika and Sayantoni. I’ve been able to form a really good connection with my mentor (Rohit bhai) and he shares a lot of information and materials on climate change. Whether it is the Vishwamitra project or the Sabarmati riverfront issue, I’ve been able to work and learn about them.
I still feel like there’s so much to do. Before, I’d feel like these are such big issues related to climate change, what can I do? But now, after this fellowship, I feel like I can actually do something. Even if it’s a small step, I feel like I can start somewhere now. This is just a start. This (Fellowship) is a means for me to carry my thoughts and actions forward. After the Fellowship I have realized that I still have a lot to do (for climate justice).
When we talk about children (in the climate movement) they get convinced easily. But when we have to talk to women, we first have to address their questions about changes in everyday routine, and then we go to talk about environmental issues. But with children, we can directly talk to them about the environment issues, because it’s trending now. With women my mother’s age, I saw that we had to take a roundabout way to talk about climate change, and even then they wouldn’t be fully convinced.
Thank you for sharing that Nitika. Sayantoni, I’d like to know what you think about this point Nitika just said- That there’s a difference in how women approach something like climate change and initiatives to talk about it. You’ve also worked with different communities on such issues- bringing solutions that come from the community and are also realistic.
Sayantoni: I want to first talk about this word ‘climate change’- when we work with grassroots communities, not everyone understands these words. So during our Fellowship, we first tried to understand what climate change actually is. If you see these issues that impact people, highlight them and go to the grassroots community, then you’ll see that the people already know of these issues and that they know how climate change can impact their lives.
We’re seeing different types of impact. Grassroots communities facing a lot of natural disasters (instances), places facing high impact, are really struggling. The difficulties in urban areas occur because people are engaged in jobs with no connection to the environment, and that environmental ecosystem and the services one gets out if this (ecosystem) isn’t as accessible or within people’s power as much as the planning authority or the local authorities would have. This is why a distance between people and nature and with the problems exists.
But those who engage in farming, or those who are directly involved with natural resources, like fisherpeople, or people facing water issues, don’t have a problem understanding these (climate-related) problems. They are in a better position to explain what problems they face.
Before ‘climate change’ entered our vocabulary, when environmental issues would be raised, many women would be at the forefront of it. Whether it was a conflict at the banks of the rivers or the Chipko Movement to save trees. In all these movements, women have been at the forefront to collect and push forward environment resources. We need to ask ourselves why women come out in huge numbers to speak out about environmental issues. In our gendered division of labour, where women ‘have to’ undertake certain tasks, women end up having to bear the direct impact of the environment crisis. If there is a water shortage or something closer to home, women are the ones directly (and firstly) affected by it. If pollution is caused by a factory nearby, children and women are the first to see the fallout. If anyone at home falls sick due to this air pollution, women, as caretakers, are affected again.
So all of these everyday routine instances have different effects. Nitika’s response on how women participate can have two reasons. When we are young, we want change to happen quickly. If you’ll observe many ‘changemakers’, they’re mostly young. Those who’ve been in this since long are still working as ‘changemakers’ to this day. But those belonging to older communities don’t jump to ‘change’ immediately. They have to take so many practical decisions that they take the time to think everything through and need a lot of convincing before coming forward. Taking the example of plastic pollution, all of us, including many women, use plastic items. When we talk about plastic pollution, we’re asked a simple question- ‘How do we carry something from one place to the other without a plastic container? Give us alternatives and then we will stop using plastic.’ And we’re rightly asked this because those who think of these practical matters will ask us for solutions first, that ‘okay we won’t use plastic, but what is an alternative?’. So somewhere, we will have to work with both these things- Firstly, how to bring change to everyone. Secondly, how to also bring solutions, an alternative vision and way to exist with the environment. All of this is connected together and it’s a matter of considering lifestyles. And if we really want to bring about change, we must consider our lifestyle from many different perspectives, not something ttat happens in a day. It is a difficult process where one must choose to move forward. Once you get into this flow, everything else comes to you easily.
I feel that women become really strong when they understand these aspects.
I have an example for this. A village was facing water issues and an organization started building a water shed. That area contained a lot of mango orchards, and they were mangos of a different variety that could survive in that dry land with little rain. Water management and retention in that area also improved after these mango orchards were planted. By the time we went to this village, the orchard was around 4-5 years old, and the land wasn’t also that dry as before and had infact improved after the trees were planted. The people there said that it was very difficult during the time they were planting the mango saplings. They would have to bring water from a distance when the trees were young. All of this was being said by the men there, so we asked them who would bring all this water to the orchards. They replied that 4-5 young girls took care of the trees. They would bring water from afar, before the water shed existed, to save the mango nursery. This meant that the most important work was being done by the women and girls, which is something we don’t understand from the outside. This means that we will have to change our perspective and understand how women and girls struggle suring such times of crisis, and how they then bring about change. Looking at both these questions will make us realize the importance of the link between gender and climate change.
That’s a wonderful example of how when we talk about solutions, they are almost always just ‘given’ before understanding the problem. One thing that’s a very common ‘green dive’ is to just plant trees, that deforestation is the only issue that is affecting climate change when infact there are a lot of issues contributing to it. And, also, the gendered aspect might seem like a non-issue to people, but it is such a big issue.
Another example that came into mind was the same topic of getting water. There was an innovation called a ’water wheel’ that would make it easier to carry pots of water. But what that didn’t address was that women and girls still had to go and collect water (with the water wheel), it still wouldn’t be clean water, and their education and work will stop ultimately. You also answered a question of mine which was to see women and girl leadership and how it traditionally has been when we talk about climate change. I was to ask, how do you see this moving forward now that climate change is a ‘buzzword’. Even the government has started talking about climate change. Like Shadhika’s Climate Change Initiative, there are more initiatives present in cities and villages. How do you see girl and women led leadership, specifically in climate change evolving and changing in the next few years?
Sayantoni: I feel that girl and women-led initiatives are impotant because we need to visibilize the contribution women and girls are making in this change process. Very often, what is happening is that there is a domination in these spaces and girl and women-led initiatives provide a perspective which would otherwise get left out. Like that water wheel and the mango orchard example, we’ve not really factored in these elements in the project and the burden of these various kinds of projects are on women. So one important future I’m looking at through these girl-led movement, one demand would be to reduce the ecological burden on women. Because in all climate change impact and any impact on climate resources, we have seen that women tend to either fall out of the plans that get made or women tend to take on the burden.
So hopefully, women leadership will begin to bring in more inclusive approaches. We are obviously not going to only have women doing this kind of work. It should be something that includes men and boys. But through this inclusion of women’s perspective, we are looking at more diverse, more equal and more inclusive kind of projects and initiatives emerging on the ground. This means better designed technologies and solutions so that there is no gap, especially when we are looking at the issues of grassroots women who are dealing with deep, entrenched patriarchal situations. Also dealing with the whole issue of women and work, unpaid work, and caregiving- all issues that women work with.
Also, one must be able to apply education. As Nitika mentioned, she went through the NSS and through their activities she encouraged many other young women to look at environmental issues.
It is interesting to look at educational policy now. There is a lot of talk about looking at environmental perspectives. So it is clear that education cannot completely leave out this whole aspect from its curriculum. It is something that we must constantly acknowledge and work with. So hopefully this education will also provide for better solutions and better gender-based technologies that these young educated women will being for other women and create more gender just solutions to problems climate change is bringing.
Absolutely. We’ve seen how climate change is becoming a mainstream topic in education as well. Nitika, you’ve written a lot as a journalist. Can you comment on how much coverage the climate issue gets in the media, especially how the grassroots and women and girl are affected differently?
Nitika: Climate change is such a big issue. It’s not just about plantation (drives), like you had mentioned. For instance, in my city there is only one river, the Vishwamitri river, which has an ongoing case related to it. There is a Court order that says that the corporation (local authority) can’t do any work in or near it, and they aren’t. But the gutters and drainage from the city and some companies flow into it. The media must highlight this issue beyond just the Court decisions, and then leaving it halfway. There are many rivers in my state that are facing issues. Also like the Narmada Yojana (plan) that led to many people losing their lives. Nothing happened after that. If the media would have covered this issue of the dam better, been more aware of the climate issues, and fought for the people better, maybe the Yojana wouldn’t have moved forward. Like this, there are many issues that the media doesn’t highlight properly. It’s also sad that I am not able to cover these issues because of pressure from above. But I do try as much as I can.
When we talk about media coverage, because what the media does or doesn’t cover, that is what the common people connect with, and how conversations and ideology are shaped. FOr instance, if the media doesn’t cover the problems of the Narmada Yojana then people won’t care so much about it and eventually forget about it. This allows illegal things to then happen.
Peoole must feel a sense of responsibility that this is our planet and our land, that in the long run it will affect us only. It’s not just about the media also, and here’s a small digression. In my society building, waste segregation was recently started and people participated initially. But now people have stopped segregating their waste. The person who comes to collect the waste also asks me why I bother segregating the waste anymore.
How do you sustain such issues and solutions from the community that seem easy? How do we bring in measures that are make sure people follow and talk about them till change happens?
Nitika: I feel that everyone must remain connected (to the issue). It’s everyone’s responsibility. Like you spoke about the issue in your society, the issue shouldn’t be left halfway, like it happens in my field also. First we highlight an issue and show how bad it is for five days and close the conversation abruptly on the sixth day. So the connection people have to the issue highlighted by the media breaks. By staying connected people will understand it’s importance in the long term, that it’ll be good for us and our society.
I also faced similar issues during the Climate Change Initiative. My topic was ‘A plastic-free generation’ for the Initiative and there were many schools near my house that I approached. I faced difficulties when trying to make the students, the Principal, and teachers understand plastic pollution and the issue that would happen when, during their lunch break, the students would buy wafer packets, then throw them onto the roads and the gutters. I’d come back to the school every few days to talk to them about it, and now after sometime the place has become absolutely clean. Another issue was when they would buy hot food and get them in disposable plastic containers, it was a process that needed a sustained connection. I’d have to torture (talk) to them every few days that this was a wring practice.
Sayantoni: The most important starting point for me as a change maker, when I’m talking to other people is if they really care about the issue. If they have even just a little interest and if they are willing, they will understand. The public, who might be willing but don’t know where to start or have an option or the know-how where to start with small steps. What you (Nitika) said about waste management, it’s a big systemic problem, and only small or civic, spontaneous action will not be enough. It would need a project or change processwith many ‘goal posts’. We’ll need to decide what these ‘goal posts’ are and what we want to see happen after we cross each of them. These goal posts help us determine how far we’ve come and what we can do next.
Nitika has picked a big issue- of a ‘plastic-free generation’. Her project aims to see a generation that will not use plastic in any form. We need to see how we can break such a big issue down into small steps and take it forward. In this we will have to work with both the system and the people because no one side will have all the solutions. We will also have to determing how easy the solution are for people to take if, if we can make the facilities needed available easily, what the people’s feedback is. If in my society, I get to know that everyone has stopped segregating waste, then the first thing I would do is get feedback from everyone as to why they stopped, what got in the way. I am the change maker, I can’t leave this responsibility on someone else.
Changemakers will have to keep going at it. This is why it will be important to proceed to the next step of questioning the ‘why’ and ‘how’. The whole system’s ‘chain’, from the start to the end needs to be understood, so we can change it’s direction to something better, like we can with the water wheel. There’s a really good film on this ‘Story of Stuff’ where they show the whole system. We are just cogs in the big system working within our own areas of influence. When we come together, it will help us see the whole system better, and understand how we can intervene from our different areas. Transformative change is possible when people working in varoious parts of that same initiative come together and make the chain. It will not be possible for just one person to do it.
It’s really good to have this broken down, especially at a time when it seems like everything is going wrong, so how do you even begin to talk about this with your own family, forget your community. All the projects the Climate Change Fellows did, they were so brave to be able to approach the community, break these issues down and talk to them, and make it relevant for people. One last question is, was there something you wanted to do during the Initiative but couldn’t do because of any circumstance or challenge?
Nitika: I wanted to solve the problem of vegetable vendors in my area using plastic bags, that I couldn’t fully do. But I am working on it and will make sure it happens.
Sayantoni: To be a changemaker there is a lot of time you need to give to the process. For those of us who opted to do this kind of work from a young age, it meant letting go of a lot of things that we would otherwise have probably done. There are choices we would have to make. I would not call them sacrifices, but clarity. That ‘this is what I want to and don’t want to do’. So once you make those clear choices, it becomes very easy to commit to the change process. I would say that during the Fellowship period, while I had a very good time with every Fellow who came onboard, I do know that they are going through a life journey beyond the Fellowship. They have a lot of opportunities coming their way and are in that phase of choice making. So how much they will begin to take this into their life journey, at this stage, or maybe five years down the line, is something I would want them to decide themselves. It’s not something that happened upfront because of various commitments that young people have to make for their own self-growth and their own journeys.
We had a lot of fun, and I know that these brave women took a lot of risks in their own communities to pick up issues that people usually don’t raise on an everyday basis, as is evident. It was inspiring to see that. We did face time problems, challenges of being able to spend more time implementing the project, and purely because there were other things everyone was occupied with.Read more