Groundbreaking initiative shields women workers from extreme heat in India

By Climate Champions | November 22, 2023
  • Implementer: Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA)
  • Country & Region: India , Asia
  • Impact: Initially targeted 21,000 SEWA women in seven trades, with plans to scale to the broader 2.6 million SEWA member community that spans 18 states and expand to other countries in Asia and Africa.

Climate impacts, escalating in severity and frequency, disproportionately affect women, particularly those in the informal sector. These impacts are multifaceted, often reducing income and compromising health, which in turn hinders efforts to overcome poverty. In India, women working informally face a critical challenge: extreme heat. This environmental hazard not only endangers their health but also forces a difficult choice between earning an income and staying safe.

Recognizing this challenge, Arsht-Rock, in collaboration with the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) and support from The Rockefeller Foundation and Howden Group, initiated the Extreme Heat Protection Initiative in early 2023 with SEWA, a member of the Extreme Heat Resilience Alliance (EHRA), as a partner. This initiative aims to create and implement solutions that not only enable adaptation to climate change but also contribute to breaking cycles of poverty among SEWA’s members.

The core of this initiative is an integrated approach, combining several key strategies: risk transfer through an Extreme Heat Income Microinsurance product, risk reduction measures, heat early warning systems, and financial inclusion. While the parametric insurance offers payouts during unsafe working conditions due to heat, the initiative also focuses on providing everyday safety tools and resources, such as concrete water tanks and protective gear, to SEWA’s members.

Additionally, the initiative plans to incorporate early warning systems to further mitigate risks, enabling better planning and protection for the health and livelihoods of these women, their children, and families. The aim is to alleviate the tough choice between earning an income and ensuring safety.

The pilot phase targeted 21,000 SEWA women across seven trades, with plans to expand to SEWA’s wider community of 2.6 million members across 18 states. This broad reach aims to protect a significant portion of India’s informal workforce, which comprises 93% percent of the country’s labour force, from the adversities of extreme heat. The programme’s design accommodates various occupations and risks, facilitating its expansion to more regions in India and potentially to other countries in Asia and Africa.

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