Blog Post

Climate Change Adaptation: Where Are the Women?

Climate change has been front and center of the global agenda recently, driven by the historic COP21 meeting in Paris in December and concerns about the ongoing El Niño cycle . Agriculture is one sector that will be particularly hard hit by a changing climate and to respond and adapt to global climate change, agricultural producers (particularly those in developing countries) will need to embrace new, more sustainable technologies and practices. However, when it comes to discussing climate-smart agricultural practices, one group often seems to fall through the cracks – women.

Men and women tend to have different roles and responsibilities in the agricultural sector throughout the world, and cultural and gender norms often limit women’s access to information and resources and control over household and agricultural production decisions. Often, interventions and policies designed to encourage climate-smart agriculture miss a large proportion of the world’s farmers because they overlook these gender differences in agricultural production.

In a 2015 policy brief from the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture, and Food Security (CCAFS), researchers present several key policy recommendations to better address women’s roles in both agriculture and climate change adaptation.
First, the report emphasizes that new climate-smart technologies and practices need to take into account both men’s and women’s interests, resources, and responsibilities in order to be more widely adopted. In addition to facing more restricted access to agricultural inputs, information regarding weather and climate-smart strategies, and agricultural and financial resources, women also tend to spend more time on unpaid household activities, kitchen gardens, and smaller livestock-raising activities; men, on the other hand, tend to engage more in larger commercial agriculture. Because of their higher level of responsibility for household tasks, such as child-rearing and cooking, women have less time to devote to more labor-intensive agricultural activities, including learning new climate-smart strategies. Understanding the differences between men’s and women’s responsibilities and culturally assigned tasks will help researchers and policymakers design climate adaptation programs that include both genders.

Second, women need greater access to agricultural extension services and information. This access is often lacking because extension service programs may not see women as farmers; women are also less likely to attend formal community meetings or to visit demonstrations by extension service providers. The report cites findings that in Kenya and Senegal, climate information services that provide weather forecasts were less likely to target women; in turn, female farmers were less likely to receive and use climate-smart advice than men. Thus, in order to reach women more effectively, information needs to be shared through a wider variety of channels, including health clinics and schools. The content of the information shared also needs to be broadened, as women may value different aspects of agricultural productivity than men do; for example, women are often responsible for the health of their households, and thus emphasizing agriculture’s importance for health and nutrition could garner more female attention.

Third, and related to the last point about women’s values, institutions involved in climate change adaptation efforts need to make sure their efforts include a broader range of concerns, not just pure agricultural productivity. These can include savings and loan programs and support for off-farm income-generating activities. Ensuring that a broader range of goals is addressed will help ensure that women’s priorities are taken into account and, in turn, increase the entire community’s capacity to adapt to climate change.

Fourth, women need to be recognized and supported as farmers and partners in climate change adaptation. Just as their male counterparts do, female farmers possess important information and expertise regarding their local agricultural contexts and market needs. Giving women access to market facilities and services, as well as incentives to engage in innovation, will ensure that this wealth of information does not go untapped. As an example, the report discusses the Kumaon Himalaya region, where climate change has driven many men to migrate in search of off-farm employment; as a result, women have increasingly taken over as agricultural decision-makers. This has resulted in the reintroduction of traditional water conservation practices, as well as the development of an innovative rainwater harvesting system. In this case, the female population’s ability to make decisions and innovate has improved the resilience of their local agriculture.

Finally, women need to be granted a larger voice in agricultural policymaking. Improving this participation will require policymakers and institutions, both national and global, to view women’s representation as more than just the number of women present and to provide an enabling environment that allows women to express their opinions and influence decisions.

The report concludes that in order to meet all of these recommendations, gender needs to be better integrated into climate change and agricultural policies across all levels, from local community groups to international governing bodies. Women’s needs and priorities need to be taken into account in the design of such policies, and monitoring and assessment of gender inclusion in agriculture need to be stepped up.

The first step in designing more gender-inclusive policies is properly measuring and analyzing gender-related data, and several IFPRI-led programs aim to do just that. The Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index (WEAI) was launched in 2012 and was the first effort of its kind to provide a standardized measure of women’s empowerment in the agricultural sector. The index measures women’s involvement in five areas: 1) decisions about agricultural production; 2) access to productive resources and decision-making power over those resources; 3) control over the use of income; 4) leadership in their community; and 5) time use. The WEAI is an aggregate index composed of two sub-indices; the first assesses if women are empowered in the five areas mentioned previously and the second measures the percentage of women who are as empowered as the men in their households (Gender Parity Index, or GPI). Knowing if, and to what level, women are empowered in their communities can help policymakers further level the playing field and ensure women’s inclusion in the agricultural sector.

IFPRI’s Gender, Agriculture and Assets Project (GAAP) also aims to inform the gender debate by identifying development strategies that can reduce the gender gap in access to and control and ownership of productive assets and by helping governments and development partners strengthen their ability to properly measure and monitor gender-related progress in their own projects. The GAAP toolkit for collecting gender and assets data provides recommendations for collection of both qualitative and quantitative data regarding gender and assets at the intra-household level, and presents case studies from Africa south of the Sahara and South Asia.

Read more about regional gender issues:
Climate Change Adaptation Requires Gender Inclusion

Framing the Agenda for Gender-Just Food Security

Perspectiva de Género y el Cambio Climático

By: Sara Gustafson, IFPRI