Message from the Director General

International Women's Day 2016

Pledging for Parity: Towards Gender Equality in the Mountains

In mountain communities of the Hindu Kush Himalayas, women make decisions every day, both big and small, that affect the management of natural resources and health of their families. They are repositories of important knowledge and skills that will help men and women face an uncertain future. Their roles have grown and become more important with rising outmigration of men from the mountains in the last few decades. However, throughout the HKH region, as elsewhere, gender inequalities persist, characterized by women’s lack of control over and limited access to productive resources along with the continuation of deeply entrenched socio-cultural ideologies that marginalize their contributions. 

Gender equality is a prerequisite to sustainable development. There is no question about it. This is maintained in newly endorsed global sustainable development goals and backed up by research. To address inequality, we must challenge the status quo to change women’s positions and status in households, communities, and society. 

At ICIMOD, gender equality is critical to our vision of improved wellbeing of ‘men, women, and children of the Hindu Kush Himalayas in a healthy mountain environment’. This International Women’s Day, with the theme of Pledging for Parity: Towards Gender Equality in the Mountains, gives us an opportunity to collectively reflect on the challenges that women face as well as actions that we as an institution have done and can do to bring about transformative change towards gender equality. 

ICIMOD, together with our partners, is working to empower women in the region and to increase the economic benefits women receive for the work that they do. We design pilots and action research to understand the different needs of women and men, and to ensure that women are included, and have equal opportunities, in testing and using alternative livelihood strategies and employing new technologies to reduce their workload and increase their income.  

Action research on financial literacy and flood preparedness has worked with women from migrant households in flood-prone areas of India and Nepal to build their adaptive capacity. The work – conducted the Himalayan Climate Change Adaptation Programme (HICAP) in Assam, India, and by the Rural Livelihoods and Climate Change Adaptation in the Himalayas programme (Himalica) in Udayapur, Nepal – has trained nearly 500 women on the systematic use of remittance money for disaster risk reduction. In India, all 240 women involved in the training opened bank accounts in public banks, and many are now using the account to access social security schemes.  

Women are leaders, not only in informal institutions, but also in the formal and political sphere. These women can be strong agents for change in the institutions they represent and in their own communities. Recognizing this, the Himalica programme organized a workshop on empowering women as agents of change for our partners in Bhutan, which was attended by women and men leaders from district-level government agencies and the local communities we work with.

Under the Koshi Basin Programme, the water use master planning process in Nepal was reviewed to better understand the challenges of gender equality and social inclusion related to local water use and management. In addition, a set of gender-inclusive good practices in disaster risk reduction is currently being compiled, which will be a valuable tool for national stakeholders, policy makers, planners, and community members.

ICIMOD also aims to support women working in male-dominated fields, like glaciology. Additional attention to women candidates during our recruitment process have made it possible to fill programme officer,  glaciologist, and glaciohydrologist positions in our Cryosphere Initiative with qualified women. The master’s programme in glaciology at our partner, Kathmandu University, has produced the first female glaciologist in Nepal, with two more women enrolled in the programme that was established with support from the Norwegian government and ICIMOD. In the Himalayan Adaptation and Water Resilience (HI-AWARE) Initiative, we have promoted a gender-focussed approach, and 50% of scholarships awarded by the initiative for PhD and MSc programmes were given to women. 

In addition to promoting gender equality through work in our programmes, we also focus on changes that bring ICIMOD as an institution closer to gender equality. Some of these changes include women’s leadership training for ICIMOD staff and its partners, gender sensitivity training, a gender audit, the inclusion of gender dimensions in institutional planning, review, and reporting, and revisions to our partnership agreements that ensure the partners we work with are also committed to gender equality. We have also developed a gender sensitive monitoring and evaluation framework at the institutional level, which will enhance how change, specifically for women and girls in the HKH region, is captured, reported, and understood. We continue to make conscious efforts to ensure women are invited as active participants in all of our conferences, although we admit that we are still short of our goal of 50%, and last year’s target of 30%, with only 26% participation by women in the 126 events organized with more than 4,000 regional participants in 2015. We will work to improve that.

As organizations and individuals around the world celebrate, we take this as an opportunity to acknowledge the valuable contributions of our women staff, and to share practices that ICIMOD has adopted to promote gender equality in the region. ICIMOD will continue to prioritize such initiatives and activities. However, we recognize that much more is required to bring about transformative change and gender equality within the institute and the region. For this, issues of gender and social equity and inclusion need more attention at all levels and stages of our activities with partners in the Hindu Kush Himalayan region, as well as in our institutional processes. 

On this International Women’s Day, ICIMOD reaffirms its commitment to bringing about gender transformative change in the Hindu Kush Himalayas through it work with partners, investing our resources, and continuing to adopt innovative approaches, practices, and research.

Wishing you all a happy International Women’s Day!

David Molden