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Marzana Kamal

May 6th, 2024

Climate Change and Women’s Unpaid Labour in South Asia

1 comment | 4 shares

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

Marzana Kamal

May 6th, 2024

Climate Change and Women’s Unpaid Labour in South Asia

1 comment | 4 shares

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

In this short personal post, Marzana Kamal asks a series of important questions that connect women’s domestic work, care duties and work conditions with social norms, global climate change and its impact — especially in Bangladesh, and developing countries.

 

In the summer of 2023, I was visiting home in Dhaka. Summers are the hottest months in South Asia. As I was relishing the delicious Bangladeshi food prepared by my aging mother, I also felt sad seeing her spending hours and hours for days at end in the kitchen in extremely hot weather.

For the past three and a half decades, as a full-time homemaker, my mother has barely taken a break from her kitchen. Even though my parents can be considered Bangladeshi middle-class, it took us almost 15 years to afford an air conditioner for our home. Yet, kitchens in South Asian homes are rarely air-conditioned or cooled, and one can only imagine the working conditions of people who come from less privileged backgrounds. Research shows that women in South Asia bear a disproportionate responsibility of unpaid care work, and due to socio-cultural norms, unpaid care work is undervalued, as are those who do it.

Looking at it from a transnational feminist perspective, one could argue that it is not always the case that women in these settings are victims or disadvantaged compared to men. For example, one study claim that many women choose to continue to remain within the (heteronormative) family structure, using various tactics to follow their desires without expressing resistance explicitly. While I tend to agree with this perspective, I also find it challenging to accept why housewives in South Asia must go through this daily drudgery in their households.

Let me bring the air conditioner back to this discussion. A Report from the UN Climate Conference 2023 says that access to cooling will remain prohibitively expensive for billions of people in developing countries. The working conditions of South Asian kitchens is also, undoubtedly, related to climate change. Arguments have been made linking climate change and colonialism, referencing scholars who claim that hyper-consumption and pollution by the capitalist élite creates further marginalisation and vulnerabilities for those in developing countries.

While climate change will impact many aspects of people’s lives across the globe, I constantly try to imagine the impact it will have on women in the kitchens of the hottest countries. As we saw during the pandemic, child marriages increased significantly in parts of the world, and now we have more young brides in the kitchens (and in other unpaid care roles).

Last, I would like to draw everyone’s attention to gendering climate change; as the author points out, the gendered costs of climate change in South Asia are critical since patriarchal norms and disparities often place women in strikingly detrimental situations that make surviving within dramatic changes in social relations difficult.

Photo 1: Pitha (a type of Bangladeshi dessert similar to dumplings, filled with sweet coconut and soaked in sweetened milk) prepared by the author’s mother. © Author.

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The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent the views of the ‘South Asia @ LSE’ blog, the LSE South Asia Centre or the London School of Economics and Political Science. Please click here for our Comments Policy.

This blogpost may not be reposted by anyone without prior written consent of LSE South Asia Centre; please e-mail southasia@lse.ac.uk for permission.

Banner image © Rashedul Islam Hridoy, Bengali Food, Jashore, Bangladesh, 2021, Unsplash.

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About the author

Marzana Kamal

Dr Marzana Kamal is Lecturer in Sociological Studies at Liverpool Hope University, UK. She researches gender, migration and South Asia.

Posted In: Bangladesh

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