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How do we achieve gender equity in adaptation and vulnerability interventions?

Vulnerability to climate change is a complex nexus that includes the capacity to adapt, to access resources and information and to enforce inclusive decision-making processes that shape the social distribution of resources (IFAD 2018). There is a huge discrepancy in the way climate change impacts food security and livelihoods of male and female smallholder farmers (Nkengla-Asi, 2017). Social aspects such as gender, class, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status induce differences in access to assets and resources, risk profiles and attitudes, agency and climate change mitigation and vulnerability for men and women (Nkengla-Asi, 2017). Needless to say, women have disproportionate access and agency and hence, are more vulnerable to climate change effects (Nkengla-Asi, 2017). Climate change exacerbates existing conflict; climate change effects lead to water insecurity, food insecurity, uncertainties in agricultural production, increased diseases and illness and more (Nkengla-Asi, 2017). Further, trends show that climate change results in male-out migration, which generates increasing work for women and women become more time-poor (Nkengla-Asi, 2017). Additionally, climate change results in decrease in both men’s and women’s incomes since rise in sea levels affect the livelihoods of low-lying coastal zones (Nkengla-Asi, 2017). This threatens settlements and pushes communities to find alternative sources of income. Lastly, decrease in women’s informal rights to land can also be amplified (Nkengla-Asi, 2017).

Gender is defined as “socio-culturally and politico-economically constructed roles, expectations, and responsibilities ascribed to men and women, girls, boys and persons with other gender identities, which change over time, are context- and history-specific, and are inseparable from power relations and societal value systems” (Myrttinen et al., 2018, p. 4). Since gender is socially constructed and gender roles are heavily intertwined with context specific power relations, gender equity will only be achieved if there is transformation in cultural and social norms and practices, more distributive division of labor and equal household dynamics, and most importantly, when institutions, laws and policies all promote equal treatment in terms of rights, benefits, obligations and opportunities (Care, 2015). There are four main ways of achieving gender equity in the context of adaptation and vulnerabilities; these are education, increase in access and agency, community based adaptation and gender mainstreaming (Care, 2015). The scope of this essay is limited to investigating gender-sensitive vulnerability and adaptation interventions that improve access and agency for small stakeholder farmer. Climate Smart Agriculture is known as one strategy that increases productivity, reduces greenhouse gases, enhances national food security and improves collective resilience against climate change effects (FAO, 2010). Further, this essay will discuss effectiveness and limitations of CSA strategies. Lastly, it will highlight the importance for gender transformative approach in order to achieve gender equality for small stakeholder farmers. 

Sustainable Goals and Climate Action: Reducing social, economic and environmental vulnerabilities of women is necessary in order to combat climate change and its impacts. The sustainable development goal (SDG) 13, called Climate Action promotes “mechanisms for raising capacity for effective climate change-related planning and management in least developed countries, including focusing on women” (OECD, 2015). Additionally, the 20th session of Conference of Parties (COP 20) also asserts that it promotes gender-sensitive climate policies and will also focus on effective implementation. Both these targets take gender-sensitive approach in order to cater to women specific needs, reduce social, economic and environmental vulnerabilities and make sure that the inequalities between men and women do not get further exacerbated (OECD, 2015). 

Why consider women in climate change effects? Women contribute to over 70% of the world’s food production (IFAD, 2018). At least 43% of the agricultural workforce in the developing countries is comprised of women. Statistical projections depict that women can increase yield by 20 – 30%, which raises the overall agricultural output in developing countries by 4% annually. This raise can reduce hunger by 17% in developing countries (FAO, 2011). 

Climate Smart Agriculture: “Climate Smart” Agriculture was pioneered by the FAO in 2010 and it was introduced in order to “sustainably increase productivity, resilience (adaptation), reduce/removes greenhouse gases (mitigation) while enhancing the achievement of national food security and development goals” (FAO, 2010). The sustainable practice included Agroforestry, terraces and bunds, water harvesting, irrigation, planting pits, crop residue mulching, composting, cover cropping, livestock manure management, efficient use of fertilizer, improved high-yielding varieties, stress tolerant varieties, minimum tillage, improved feed management, destocking, switching to climate tolerant livestock and pasture management (Bernier et al., 2015). Of course these specific technologies are context specific and need to be implemented based on needs, preferences, access to resources, risk profiles, attitudes, and existing land practices. For CSA to be gender sensitive, institutional and behavioral changes need to take place. Policies and institutions help create CSA capacity such as improve land ownership, access to agricultural credit, access to productive farm inputs, access to timely labor, access to advisory services, access to markets and market information and lastly, access to weather and climate information (WBG, 2015). Gender-responsive policies address the specific needs and realities of women based on gender roles (WBG, 2015). Copious stakeholders from research, practice and policy fields collaborate on gender and CSA interventions for instance FAO’s Mitigation of Climate Change in Agriculture (MICCA) program, along with the CCAFS program, World Agroforestry Centre, and Kenyan Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, and Fisheries, interact and share evidence and field experience from over 40 CSA and gender related projects in Kenya (WBG, 2015). These projects depict that more female and male farmers adopt climate smart technologies if women’s awareness, knowledge and access to information is high (WBG, 2015). As a result, household resilience in strengthened and food systems are more resilient to climate related shocks (WBG, 2015). Moreover, the studies also reveal that households would be more resilient to climate change is social aspects such as women’s mobility, women’s time and labor commitments were not major constraints (WBG, 2015).

The above image is a framework that presents interventions, policies, and trade-offs that promote gender and social equity in CSA (WBG, 2015). The inner circles represent four key considerations; livelihood assets, institutions, food system activities, and food system outcomes and the outer circle shows lifecycle of a program; planning and design, implementation and monitoring and evaluation. The main point of this framework is to represent that gender should be integrated in CSA strategies at all stages of project lifecycle. In order to evaluate whether CSA practices have a gendered approach and are meeting the need of women, several measures and criteria need to be taken into consideration.

  1. Gender Analysis: An analysis of cultural, social and economic context is extremely necessary to figure out differences in vulnerabilities of men and women. It explores opportunities, benefits and power relations within household, community and national boundaries. Gender analysis will help determine what gendered measures need to be injected (Nelson & Huyer, 2016).
  2. Participation and Engagement: All strategies and projects need to meaningfully involve men and women in the decision making process (Nelson & Huyer, 2016). This is especially important because the interventions should cater to the needs and preferences of the people in the local community. Hence, experts need to meaningfully involve the members who these interventions will be directly affecting (Nelson & Huyer, 2016). Institutions need to effectively collaborate with all stakeholders.
  3. Address the constraints: After the findings of gender analysis reveal social gendered constraints like unequal roles, decision-making, information, credit, ownership of land and such, CSA practices can be sensitive to the identified constraints and aim towards reducing inequalities (Nelson & Huyer, 2016).
  4. Short-term benefits: Vulnerability and adaptation outcomes such as improvements in agricultural yields, increase in women’s access, increase in household incomes are all immediate benefits of CSA interventions (Nelson & Huyer, 2016). These outcomes may or may not sustain over time (Nelson & Huyer, 2016).
  5. Long-term benefits: In the long run, the CSA interventions should ideally result in gender equity (Nelson & Huyer, 2016). Women and in general, smallholder farmer households should become more resilient to climate change. There should be a rise in women’s incomes, control of resources and participation in decision-making at household and community level (Nelson & Huyer, 2016).

One successful example of how CSA practices have resulted in reducing climate change vulnerabilities comes from Kenya. CSA strategies reduced the economic vulnerability of women in Western Kenya. FAO pioneered a pilot project called Mitigation of Climate Change in Agriculture (MICCA), which was launched in Kenya in 2011 (WBG, 2015). This project focused on introducing CSA practices into small-scale female and male dairy farmers in order to improve milk productivity, income and overall livelihoods (WBG, 2015). The women received training in CSA practices after which, they collectively decided to establish a tree nursery (WBG, 2015). This intervention was proven to be successful as they were able to improve production, feed storage, and dairy cattle management (WBG, 2015). This also allowed them to access credit, which they could use to further invest in other agricultural small-scale businesses (WBG, 2015). The women revealed that they could pay their children’s tuition after making more income (WBG, 2015). They could also make regular contributions to the National Health Insurance Fund (WBG, 2015). The program also revealed that the participants gained improved nutrition and also adopted sustainable food practices such as compost and building home gardens (WBG, 2015). This helped in reducing carbon emissions. Moreover, the women explained that the project overall reduced their stress levels which helped create a better environment at home (WBG, 2015). This project led to the adoption of agroforestry, which ordinarily would be difficult given cultural and gendered context of Kenya (WBG, 2015).

To further elaborate on how CSA strategies have been successful in leveraging women, there are many case studies that discuss innovative technologies that results in gender-responsive CSA. One such technology is Flexi-biogas, which is an example of laborsaving technology (WGB, 2015). Labor saving technologies are essentially technologies that improve efficiency of household tasks. In this way, labor saving technologies reduce the burden on women and indirectly enhance household climate resilience. Flexi-biogas provides cooking gas, lighting and electricity for smallholder farmers. It is relatively cheaper, easy to install and only requires 1-2 cows. Although this program was initiated in Kenya, it spread to Rwanda and India as well. This program has resulted in positive economic and social outcomes.

  1. Reports show that flexi-biogas saved 2-3 hours of household work per day for women. In this way, women were able to spend more time in income generating activities or leisure, which resulted in lower stress levels and better quality of life (WBG, 2015).
  2. The fact that flexi-biogas stoves could be situated within the house, instead of cooking outside on fires, women were able to spend more time with the other household members. This also made men more willing to take responsibility for cooking (WBG, 2015).
  3. Household members in general suffered less from respiratory diseases that were originally induced by charcoal fires (WBG, 2015).
  4. Flexi-biogas uses biogas to operate hence it directly reduces methane emissions (WBG, 2015).
  5. Use of Flexi-biogas resulted in crop productivity. The waste product from the flexi-biogas was used as organic fertilizer, which resulted in a 6-10% increase in yields. This ultimately also resulted in increase in household income (WBG, 2015).

While there exists faraggo of evidence of succesful CSA strategies, there are challenges to adopting a gender-sensitive approach. The biggest deterrent to gender senstitive approach is weak institutions (Nelson & Huyer, 2016). Due to lack of gender awarness and cultural barriers, it is not unusual to find absense of political commitment towards promoting equity (Nelson & Huyer, 2016). Many leadership authorities are resistant towards incorporating gender issues because there is a distinct lack in knowledge that draws upon strategies that overcome these socio-political challenges (Nelson & Huyer, 2016). CSA interventions that aim to build resilience and attain gender equity necessitate strong institutions and social inclusive systems, only then, will climate-smart agriculture be able to increase agency for women. An important point that needs to be noted here is that it’s not only important for a country to have strong institutions that support gender sensitive approaches, but all the institutions such as land and water management, local and national planning, crisis-response mechanisms, social protection programs all need to implement gender sensitive approaches within their systems.

Additionally, CSA is limited in that it essentially aids in improving agency and access to resources. It does not directly confront social, political and economic barriers that women face. Gender equity requires a direct and active intervention that not only reduces vulnerability to climate change effects but also transform current social and political structures. Gender Transformative agricultural adaptation programs introduced by IFAD are programs that transform gender roles and build equitable social structures (IFAD, 2018). A gender transformative approach goes beyond women’s empowerment, to “transforming gender roles and relations between women and men, and promoting women’s greater equality, responsibilities, status and access to and control over resources, services and decision-making” (IFAD, 2018). The gender-transformative adaptation program includes:

  1. Equitable access to agriculture and climate information that addresses women and girl’s needs and reality.
  2. Equitable access to agricultural inputs and technology that is sensitive to the priorities and constraints of women and youth smallholder farmers.
  3. Equitable access to resources by developing policies that help gain land rights, access to land, water and forest resources for smallholder farmers.
  4. Access to markets and credit to finance smallholder businesses.
  5. Innovative community-based approaches that are designed using bottom-up and traditional and indigenous knowledge. This results in social cohesion and better stakeholder management.
  6. Inclusive decision making processes in designing adaptation interventions.
  7. Inclusive and equal representation of women, youth and marginalized communities when facilitating multi-stakeholder engagements and establishing institutional linkages.
  8. Equitable access for capacity building, and improving knowledge management processes.
  9. Conducting gender analysis to guide program implementation and invest in staff to mainstream gender transformative approaches during program implementation.

In this way, gender transformative approaches improve smallholder farmers’ resilience against climate change effects, improve agricultural yields and household income and steer towards more equitable social structures.    

In conclusion, climate smart agriculture programs that are gender sensitive are examples of an effective strategy that helps small stakeholder farmers build resilience since it improves access and agency to information, resources, markets, improve agricultural yields and household incomes while enhancing national food security, securing health and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. CSA strategies that are gender sensitive focus on clear understanding of productive roles of men and women, are cognizant of men’s and women’s access to control over physical and financial resources and ensure women’s participation in decision-making processes. However, this CSA approach is linear in that its direct impact mainly just focuses on improving access and agency. Long-term impact of CSA, which is to achieve gender equity and resilience to climate change, is conditional upon strong institutional support, which takes collective effort. To achieve gender equity, a multi-sectoral approach that really confronts and improves economic, social, political and cultural barriers for women farmers (and women in general) is desperately needed. Hence, gender mainstreaming and a gender transformative approach is needed. Gender transformative approaches aim to transform gender roles and relations between women and men, and promoting women’s greater equality, responsibilities, status and access to and control over resources, services and decision-making. It truly focuses on equitable distribution of rights, benefits and opportunities between men and women economically, politically, socially and culturally.

Closing the gender gap in agriculture-climate change nexus might be limited to increasing productivity, enhancing food security, securing health and improving rural livelihoods (Nkengla-Asi, 2017). However, it is important to consider changes in women status based on income, ethnicity and society (Nkengla-Asi, 2017). Although there is a growing awareness of the inclusion of gender issues in climate change adaptation and mitigation policies and programs women are generally considered as a homogeneous group (Nkengla-Asi, 2017). The fact that women, especially “third world women,” are treated as a homogeneous group needs to change as it is based on generalizations and stereotypes of women’s status in a traditional household (Nkengla-Asi, 2017). This could result in misleading understanding of women’s needs and priorities (Nkengla-Asi, 2017). Climate specific vulnerability and adaptation policies need to be cognizant of various social categories of women that are based age, lineage, status, ethnicity, class and income (Nkengla-Asi, 2017).  


By Ms Miha Alam

University of Waterloo



Work Cited:

Bernier, Q., Meinzen-Dick, R., Kristjanson, P., (2015). Gender and Institutional Aspects of Climate-Smart Agricultural Practices: Evidence from Kenya. CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), 3-64.

Nelson, S., Huyer, S., (2016). A Gender-responsive Approach to Climate-Smart Agriculture: Evidence and guidance for practitioners. CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS). 1-9.

Nkengla-Asi, (2017). Mainstreaming climate adaptation into sectoral policies in Central Africa: Insights from Cameroun. Environmental Science and Policy, 89, 49-58.

CARE International. (2015). Understanding gender in community based adaptation. Retrieved from https://careclimatechange.org/

FAO. (2010). Gender and Land Rights Database in Malawi. Retrieved from http://www.fao.org/gender-landrights-database/country-profiles/countries-list/general-introduction/en/?country_iso3=MWI

IFAD. (2018). Gender perspectives: Integrating disaster risk reduction into climate change adaptation: Good practices and lessons learned.