Gender-transformative adaptation to climate change: Let’s learn from evidence of what works

by 21st Aug 2019
Maho, Armeline and Miza are part of a farmer field school teaching climate-smart agriculture in Madagascar Maho, Armeline and Miza are part of a farmer field school teaching climate-smart agriculture in Madagascar

Gender inequality is a major driver of poverty and a major obstacle to sustainable development. It’s also a key determinant of exposure to climate change risk: women and girls are more vulnerable to climate change impacts. So if we want to reduce this risk, reduce poverty, and promote sustainable development, adaptation projects and programmes must not only address gender-based vulnerability – they must seek to be gender transformative. What can we learn from good practice examples of programmes where gender equality outcomes have been sought and secured?

A recently published paper – developed by CARE in close collaboration with CCAFS, ICRAF, IFAD, FANRPAN, FAO, UN Women and WGC – analyses what makes gender-transformative adaptation. Here are some of the key lessons:

  • Gender analysis is a non-negotiable action in the design process for any adaptation project – because information on differences in access to, control over, and knowledge about existing resources in a community is essential for every aspect of the project – planning, data collection, and actions.
  • Successful local adaptation planning and action requires good governance structures that engage public and private sector actors – and crucially, that puts communities at the centre of monitoring of this governance.
  • It’s critical to pay attention to marginalisation in adaptation and to understand and respond to intersectionality, where gender inequality is experienced in different ways depending on age, class, ethnicity, sexual identity, etc.
  • Labour burden must be a key area for focus – because too often, the time that women and spend in unpaid domestic work, and other activities where they are considered providers of manual labour, is not supported with technologies or labour-saving practices.
  • Engaging men is a predominant success factor in increasing women’s access to agriculture resources and services and their participation in decision-making, which can lead to improvements in household income and nutrition management.
  • Interventions outside agriculture such as in the financial or social protection sectors can also help secure access to resources for women.
  • Having gender-trained male and female facilitators and leaders in communities who are brokers and role models is important – and needs to be backed up by public, private and civil society actors taking responsibility to address gender-based imbalances in our own teams, approaches and investments.
  • Women are powerful agents of change and with support, their confidence increases in expressing their views in the household and in public fora. Amplifying voice improves activism and political representation and leads to greater equality. However, the risk of backlash at household level or in the public sphere, as women increasingly move into public spaces or gain financial autonomy, needs careful management.

Adaptation actions in agricultural production and market integration, in natural resource management or in the protection of ecosystems must engage with and address gender-based power dynamics to succeed. The implications for policy and programming are that women will remain neglected by development interventions unless their differing needs, preferences, and constraints are considered. Better integrating research and practice, and designing interventions with gender in mind, will accelerate progress towards achieving many development objectives, while enabling women and men to become agents of their own empowerment.

Our lessons point towards a need to invest in participatory action research, testing new technologies, and co-learning. This will further enhance understanding of gender and climate change issues, while, equally importantly, strengthen capacity in local partners for gender-transformative interventions in agriculture.

Read more in the paper: Gender-transformative adaptation: From good practice to better policy

Karl Deering

Karl has a background in social science and has worked for various NGOs in technical, managerial and policy roles in the areas of food security, agriculture and climate change. He is currently the senior technical advisor for Partnerships and Research in CARE’s Food and Water Systems team - which includes particular attention to gender transformation. Karl is a member of CARE’s global gender cohort and has published several practice and policy papers on gender in the context of climate change adaptation and food security.