Feminist Solidarity? Women’s Engagement in Politics and the Implications for Water Management in the Darjeeling Himalaya

Citation:

Joshi, Deepa. 2014. “Feminist Solidarity? Women’s Engagement in Politics and the Implications for Water Management in the Darjeeling Himalaya.” Mountain Research and Development 34 (3): 243–54. doi: 10.1659/MRD-JOURNAL-D13-00097.1. 

Author: Deepa Joshi

Abstract:

This article explores the motivations of a diverse group of women in the Himalayan region of Darjeeling district in India to engage (or not) in politics, and discusses how women, like men, are vulnerable to power and politics. In Darjeeling, class, ethnicity, and other divides are accentuated by unresolved, decades-long identity based political conflicts that also obscure practical everyday needs and challenges. This defines which women engage in the political domain and, in the dominantly patriarchal political space, how these women relate to the region’s enduring water challenges. In such a setting, it would be ideal to wish for solidarity among women that would overcome class and ethnic divisions and individual political aspirations, making space for gendering political causes and practical challenges. Such solidarity would be especially pertinent in the Eastern Himalaya, given the region’s projected climate vulnerability and fragile democracy. However, reality is far removed from development discourse and policy which suggests an assumed camaraderie among mountain women: an imagined empathy and solidarity in relation both to environmental causes and concerns and the practice of equitable power and politics. In looking at how a diverse group of women in varying positions of power and powerlessness in Darjeeling District are unable, reluctant, or simply uninterested in addressing critical water injustices experienced by some, this paper calls for retrospection on both gender-environment myths and gender-politics fictions. 

Keywords: gender, women, identity, environment, water, politics, feminism, solidarity, Darjeeling

Annotation:

This article explores the realities surrounding women, political conflicts, and injustices in the Darjeeling district of the Eastern Himalaya. It explores the two stereotypes placed on women: that they are more egalitarian and support policies promoting equality, and that women have an inherent link and concern for nature. The author studied a diverse group of women who chose to engage in political discussion formally and informally. Joshi found contrary to popular belief that most women were unwilling to address the complexity of water injustices, having been affected by the same political constraints as men. The stereotype of women as sharing an inherent relationship with the environment is still prominent in policy that marginalizes women. The case study of the Himalayas demonstrates that women are not passive victims of change, especially in the case of climate change adaptation. The issue of water scarcity in the Darjeeling district is due to hydrogeological, financial, and sociopolitical constraints. Women in positions of power were found to not prioritize gender and environmental issues over personal interests. The paper concludes with a recommendation to broaden one’s understanding and defining of gender. 

Topics: Class, Development, Environment, Climate Change, Ethnicity, Feminisms, Gender, Women, Gender Roles, Femininity/ies, Gendered Power Relations, Gender Equality/Inequality, Infrastructure, Water & Sanitation, Political Participation Regions: Asia, South Asia Countries: India

Year: 2014

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