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Climate Smart Agriculture Sourcebook

The role of gender in Climate-Smart Agriculture

Enabling Frameworks

Gender-differentiated impacts of climate change

There is ample evidence that climate change is having serious effects on agricultural production and the livelihoods of millions of farmers. Climate variability and the degradation of land and other natural resource are changing rural landscapes across the world. 

It is also evident that women and men experience climate change impacts differently due to their socially constructed roles and responsibilities. For example, in developing countries, climate change affects the availability of surface water, and as a result rural women, who are usually given the task of fetching water, have to cover greater distances to collect the water, increasing their already substantial workload. Studies have also shown the strong links between climate-related disasters and female mortality, with women, boys and girls more than 14 times more likely than men to die during a disaster (Peterson, 2007, DFID, 2013).

Women often have more limited rights than men, limited mobility and less access than men to resources, information, and decision-making authorities. Consequently, they are significantly more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and have fewer capacities to adapt and diversify their livelihood options. 

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its 5th Assessment Report (2013) states that climate change hazards ‘increase or heighten existing gender inequalities, thereby contributing to the greater climate change vulnerability of many women’. 

According to the IPPC, an individual's vulnerability and capacity to adapt to climate change are influenced by the following factors, which are heavily differentiated across gender lines:

  • human capital, which includes elements such as literacy, education, skills and access to information, health and nutritional status;
  • levels and sources of income and livelihood diversification strategies, and access to economic capital and productive resources;
  • social capital, including the quality of informal and formal institutions and support networks (e.g. membership in social groups, co-operatives and associations); and
  • the availability of and access to technology (e.g. transport and telecommunication networks) public utilities and agricultural inputs. 

There is a need for a better understanding of how these factors determine the differences in the specific constraints men and women smallholder farmers1 face when making choices concerning climate change adaptation and the adoption of climate-smart agriculture practices. A meaningful consideration of these differences in climate-smart agriculture interventions is likely to make these interventions more effective in helping both men and women farmers cope with the impacts of climate change and build resilient and inclusive food systems.  

Figure C6.1 illustrates the differentiated impacts of climate change on women that are most relevant to the agriculture sectors. It indicates the various social, economic, political and environmental factors that influence vulnerability and adaptive capacity and that may make women, as a specific group, more susceptible to adverse changes.

Figure C6.1. Gender-differentiated impacts of climate change on women

Source: World Bank, FAO, 2017.

The gender-differentiated impacts of climate change are especially pronounced among rural women, as they rely more on biomass (e.g agricultural crops, wastes, and wood and other forest resources) than men for their energy needs and livelihoods. Rural women also depend more than rural men on ecosystem services for food securityi,  as they are often heavily involved in agricultural production and the management of natural resources. For example, a recent study conducted in Malawi (Asfaw and Maggio, 2017) found that in situations where extreme weather events significantly reduce consumption and nutrition, the effects are more pronounced in areas where the share of land area owned by women is higher. This suggests that when climate variability is high, women involved in agriculture are much more vulnerable than men and less able to cope with shocks. 

The gendered differences in the dependence on natural resources and ecosystem services explain differentiated adaptive capacities and exposure to risk and vulnerability to losses in biodiversity and changes in access to and management of natural resources. In many areas, women have more limited access to agricultural advisory services and formal rural institutions. This further reduces their opportunities to learn about coping strategies and climate-smart agriculture. 

Climate change can exacerbate existing gender inequalities in agriculture and beyond. However, if the important role women play in agriculture is recognized, and they are provided with equal access to resources and services, climate change can also offer significant opportunities for women to become agents of change. To identify the most appropriate climate-smart agriculture practices and technologies for a given area, it is necessary to analyse its specific socio-economic and institutional setting, the prevailing agro-ecological conditions and the projected climate change scenarios and possible future impacts. 

The following section looks at the significance of the gender gap in agriculture in the context of climate change. It also presents a number of tested tools to assess and address gender inequalities and unlock the potential of rural women to become agents of change in the agriculture sectors and contribute to making the transition to climate-smart agriculture. 

 

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1 Smallholder refers to small-scale agricultural producers in general, including farmers, livestock keepers, and fishers.

Ecosystem services for food security: Agriculture, while delivering provisioning services (such as water, food, wood), operates at the intersection of different compartments, such as air, water, soil and biodiversity, and diverse socio-political compartments. In each of these compartments, agriculture influences key regulating services (such as climate stabilisation; water supply and water quality, preservation of genetic diversity). With regards to the socio-economic compartment, agriculture constitutes an important source of employment for men and women, improving rural livelihoods, and an environment conducive to the transmission of farming knowledge and traditions.