Women with Psychosocial Disabilities - MHI




Women with
Psychosocial Disabilities

Intersecting Disasters 
and Climate Change 

Asha Hans


Mohith O


illustrator’s bio

Amreeta Banerjee

Alice A. Barwa completed her MA in Education from Dr. B.R. Ambedkar Univerity, Delhi (AUD), in 2022, and is from the Oraon Adivasi community, a native of Chhotanagpur Plateau, Chhattisgarh. She has been an advocate for Adivasi rights and voices as a member of an Adivasi youth collective @TheAdivasiPost, and has been an Adivasi youth representative at UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, in 2021. Her research interests include education, culture, sociology, and linguistics.


Disasters exacerbate existing gender inequalities and women with disabilities specifically find themselves excluded from Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) efforts and plans. As increasing disasters are the outcome of climate change, we cannot disconnect it from considerations of gender and disability. Gender is one of many factors that influence how we are impacted by and respond to climate change. Women are, however, not a homogenous group, and women with psychosocial disabilities are disproportionately affected by existing social discriminatory attitudes1. Extreme weather conditions ranging from floods, cyclones, and forest fires to heat waves, weak monsoons, excessive or less snow to unseasonal rains are responsible for the risks confronting their lives and livelihoods. We need to, however, highlight how women’s experiences are uniquely shaped by the way that social norms and laws intersect with the different dimensions of DRR and climate change.


This article is the outcome of fieldwork conducted in Rajnagar Block of Odisha, India during May and June 2022. This region is routinely affected by severe cyclones and a sea-level rise that has been eroding the coast. Data was collected from 50 households and one FGD conducted in the Kaintha village cluster. The data brought to light the issues women with psychosocial disabilities living in the Mahanadi Delta of India face. 

Currently, the policy focus on mitigation is at the international level, where disability is marginalised. On the ground, adaptation matters to people, especially when it comes to those with multiple marginalisations such as women with psychosocial disabilities.

Mahanadi Delta and the impact of climate change on women with psychosocial disabilities

For this article, only psychosocial disability case data has been included:
Padma is 30 years old and hails from the Mahanadi Delta on the Odisha coast of India. As the sea level rose, her village was washed away and the family was forced to move inland. They had been farmers and now their land was lost. For the sake of her physical and food security, Padma was married off to a farmer when she was just 15. She lives with a psychosocial disability, and when her husband passed on, and with three children to take care of, her mental health worsened. Padma took on farm work to provide for her children, but the challenges never abated. The sea rose again and salinated her land, forcing the farming to be abandoned. Today, she lives in a small, one-room thatched house on the edge of the eroding sea coast that continues to be affected by frequent disasters. She has joined a demand-driven livelihood program for the Indian rural population called NREGA (National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) which provides work for 100 days in a year, but neither work days nor wages have been regular. Her eldest daughter, only 12-years-old, has left school and is waiting to get married. The sons attend a nearby school where mid-day meals are provided to the students. Despite the vulnerability consequent to loss of livelihood, Padma has found work and maintains social contacts within the village. She has, however, found no place in the government’s relocation planning or adaptation plans for climate change.

Originally from a coastal village that no longer exists, Jyotsana moved to a smaller village with her fisherman father and family. Fishing as an industry has had limited growth in this region, and as the fish quality deteriorated, so did the family income. 

As the sea surged, Jyotsana’s mother began to fear that the water would enter their home. The trauma affected her capacity to work and 14-year-old Jyotsana had to leave school to take care of her siblings. Her mother’s mental anguish was deepened by the loss of the community that had originally existed around them. To ensure that she would be around people she had known before, the family decided to move closer to a relocated colony. This helped her find  mental support and relief. Jyotsana’s father meanwhile started a micro business to be able to pay for their food. Though India’s Public Distribution System (PDS) is designed to help ensure food security for underprivileged communities, Jyotsana’s family hasn’t been able to access it as they have no papers to prove their identity. These records are tied to geographical location and there is no allowance for portage of entitlements. So, the family continues to live on the edge of nutritional insecurity.

Kanchan lives within the Mahanadi Delta hotspot region and belongs to a community that has been designated as  Scheduled Caste. The breeze here is strong, and the constant stress of the sea level rising and moving inland has affected her psychologically. The effect on her has been severe enough to cause a stroke that has led to paralysis. A frontline (ASHA – Accredited Social Health Activist) worker, she can no longer earn as her mobility is limited due to inability to access a wheelchair. Life at home is challenging due to the unavailability of a toilet inside. Kanchan admits that the situation has led to suicidal ideation, and that she has not been able to even reach the sea so as to consider drowning. Her son has now migrated and the remittances from him have been providing for her food and medical care.  

Research Outcomes

Though the cases cited in this article are few, they affirm emerging evidence of intersecting vulnerabilities that disasters and climate change can create in women’s lives. We need to take into account that women with psychosocial disabilities, as referred to in the case of Padma, Jyotsana, and Kanchan, are among the most ‘resource poor’ within a community. This is due to poor access to education, lack of income or low/irregular income, social exclusion and limited access to decision-making, and little access to or control over those resources which would facilitate adaptation. The legal support provided by India’s Mental Healthcare Act, 2017 is limited, and the National Action Plan on Climate Change overlooks disability rights. Women’s awareness of the legal and administrative provisions of the ‘Guidelines on Disability Inclusive Disaster Risk Reduction’ (2019) of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), and of its guidelines on ‘Psycho-Social Support and Mental Health Services in Disasters’ (2009) is low.

…disability considerations will allow for more inclusive climate change solutions to be created.

The voices of women are not heard in the climate and disaster conversations, especially because disability considerations will allow for more inclusive climate change solutions to be created.

…disability considerations will allow for more inclusive climate change solutions to be created.


Community support provides women with disabilities the resources to survive. Adaptation strategies of migration and livelihood schemes have been important strategies for survival as well. As climate change constitutes a serious and escalating threat to the lives, health, and safety of populations around the world due to extreme weather events, this article would contribute to the extremely inadequate research evidence available on the impact and the input of women with psychosocial disabilities, concerning climate change.

Cite this Article View all References


  • The term psychosocial instead of mental disability could not be adopted to replace psycho-social disability in the CRPD though the World Users of Psychiatry had promoted it. “Mental and psychosocial disabilities” is used to refer to people who have received a mental health diagnosis, and who have experienced negative social factors including stigma and discrimination and exclusion. 
  • Hans, Asha, et al. Engendering Climate Change: Learnings from South Asia, Routledge India. 2021. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781003142409. 
  • Government of India. National Disaster Management Guidelines on Disability Inclusive Disaster Risk Reduction. 2019. https://www.ndma.gov.in/sites/default/files/PDF/Guidelines/DIDRR.pdf.
  • Government of India. National Disaster Management Guidelines on Psycho-Social Support and Mental Health Services in Disasters. 2009. https://www.ndma.gov.in/sites/default/files/PDF/Guidelines/pssmhsguidlines.pdf.
  • Salelkar, Amba. Celebrated Mental Health Care Act Restricts Individual Liberty And Fails to Comply with International Standards. The Caravan. 2017. https://caravanmagazine.in/vantage/mental-healthcare-act-restricts-individual-liberty-fails-international-standards.



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