Women’s Action Towards Climate Resilience for Urban Poor in South Asia | Bangladesh, India, Nepal


This project, led by an Indian NGO Mahila Housing Sewa Trust (MHT), is on a mission to organise and empower women in low-income households to increase their resilience to impacts of climate change. To date, MHT’s initiatives have helped 25,000 low-income families across seven cities in India, Bangladesh and Nepal.

The project is centred around an integrated model wherein women take the lead through collective action and technology incubation to devise locally relevant, pro‐poor, gender-sensitive and climate-resilient solutions. For example, women were trained to be energy auditors who encourage households to switch to more efficient products, forming a women-led distribution network of green energy and building products. Other solutions include using sprinkler taps to reduce the flow of water, harvesting rainwater, and other behavioural changes leading to more than 60% of households reporting to have increase in water quantity and more than 32% having sufficient water during summers.

Though projects like these, MHT is empowering women to take action against four major climate risks: heat waves, flooding and inundation, water scarcity, and water-vector-borne diseases. These slow‐onset events attract less attention but frequently impact poor people, particularly women, the most.


Key Facts

  • Mahila Housing Sewa Trust (MHT) has helped organise 114 Community Action Groups, who have reached out to 27,227 women in 107 slums. Of the women they’ve worked with, 8,165 women were recorded to demonstrate an increase in “knowledge seeking behavior”. 
  • Over 1,500 women have been trained as climate-saathis, who are responsible for communicating the issue of climate change with their community in their local language. Through this communications exercise, the proportion of participants who viewed climate change as an act of god reduced from 26 % to 9 %.
  • To date, around 28,000 energy audits have been undertaken in slum communities, which have saved families over USD 700,000 per annum in electricity costs. These money and energy saving interventions have included installing over 200 modular roofs and 500 roofs with solar reflective white paint, while having also led to a reduction of 105 tonnes of CO2e per annum. 

The Problem

It is estimated that over 190.7 million people live in informal settlements in South Asia. These settlements are often densely populated and highly vulnerable to even the slightest changes to our climate.

MHT’s project is building the resilience capacities of over 25,000 low-income families living in slums and informal settlements across seven cities in three South Asian countries, including: Ahmedabad, Bhopal, Ranchi, Jaipur, Bhubaneswar (India); Dhaka (Bangladesh), and Kathmandu (Nepal).

Their initiatives empower women to lead local mitigation efforts to prevent key climate risks such as heatwaves, flooding and inundation, and climate change related incidences of water-vector borne diseases. These types of slow-onset events tend to attract less global attention, while also disproportionately impacting low-income households. Women are commonly the primary caregiver and responsible for household management, which renders them more vulnerable to these types of stresses.


The Solution

MHT has championed a women-led empowerment model for building climate resilience in the slums of South Asia, focused around organising groups of women in their communities. Their model builds upon the conviction that if the urban poor are provided with requisite knowledge to undertake vulnerability and risk assessments, and are equipped with available resilient‐technologies, they will be able to devise and implement locally relevant and pro‐poor, climate-resilient solutions

The project model emphasizes women taking the lead through collective action and technology incubation in order to devise these locally relevant, gender-sensitive and climate-resilient solutions. To make this possible, MHT, assists with facilitating the required infrastructure, institutional and financial mechanisms.

Helping the Planet

Through empowering women, this project is also helping reduce the emissions associated with the production of electricity in these communities. For example, one of MHT’s core initiatives trains women to become energy auditors and educate households on the nuances of energy use such as bill calculation, wattage consumption and energy wastage. As energy auditors, these women also encourage households to switch to more energy efficient products.

These trained energy auditors also act as grassroots level micro-entrepreneurs, by forming a women-led distribution network of green energy and building products. Energy auditors promote the installation of energy efficient LED bulbs and lights, modular roofs, airlite ventilator, many other solutions.


Helping People

While women from low-income families are often the most vulnerable as they have the least access to information and resources, MHT believes they also have the greatest potential to be empowered to become agents of change.

The rationale for the project is to provide these women with the requisite knowledge to undertake vulnerability and risk assessments, while also equipping them with the available climate resilient-technologies. This means they will be able to identify climate induced vulnerabilities, minimize risk and adopt locally relevant climate resilient solutions. In turn, these women also can potentially play a role in influencing better city planning and governance for pro-poor adaptation and resilience actions.


Spillover Effect

Currently, MHT is in the process of training other grassroots organisations to reproduce similar women-led groups in areas such as Bhubaneswar, Dhaka and Kathmandu.

While many other urban resilience programs are top-down and externally driven, MHT has made a concerted effort to ensure their initiatives are low-cost, contextually-appropriate and participatory.  Urban poor that have been organized under this program gather critical planning data to design their own solutions and negotiate with other urban stakeholders, as well as test and manage implementation of these solutions.

Through empowering women to help improve their homes and communities, MHT’s initiatives have also triggered behavior change in communities towards making more informed decisions. This has in turn empowered them with the necessary knowledge to demand improved government services, thus proving that this concept can be expanded to other communities throughout the world.

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