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Tackling Climate Change in Agriculture: A Critical need for Gender-Transformative Approaches

(Photo by Kelly L from Pexels)

It is well-known by now that women are disproportionately affected by climate change. They are among the most vulnerable population groups in developing countries, particularly those who are connected to agriculture, fisheries, and dependent on natural resources. Women are the face of poverty and climate shocks and these stresses undermine their livelihoods and further exacerbate their economic hardships and subject them to multifarious risks including sexual exploitation and abuse.

The gender gap in access to and control over productive assets, resources, and services in agriculture is also well established. Women have limited opportunities to enhance their resilience to climate change due to these gender gaps. Agricultural research and development organizations have been making efforts to reduce the gender gaps, supported by some policy measures. However, the gaps continue to persist and, unless they are addressed, we will not be able to address climate change effectively.

The gender gaps are only the symptoms or visible manifestations of gender inequality. Unless we address the root causes which are the deeply entrenched social and gender norms and structural barriers, we will not be able to achieve lasting change. Gender Transformative Approaches (GTAs) aim to tackle these root causes. 

In late 2012, a group of researchers and practitioners from agriculture and health sectors gathered in Penang, Malaysia to explore the potential of applying GTAs in agriculture. The Aquatic Agricultural Systems Research Program of the CGIAR pioneered the application and we have come a long way since. Significant progress has been made, some evidence generated, methods and tools developed (GENNOVATE), attention paid to developing metrics and methods for monitoring transformative change, ample experience gained, and learning distilled. New initiatives are being designed to implement the approaches systematically and generate evidence and learning. 

It is time to reflect on how we can apply and scale these approaches, particularly in the context of climate change, if we want to address the complex challenges we face today. We cannot address climate change effectively if we leave out the most vulnerable and affected section of the population. We cannot make significant changes if women are not at the table and their voices are not heard. Women need to have the agency, access to and control of resources, engage in collective action, and have a reduced work burden. Eliminating the gender gaps is critical to achieving this, particularly enhancing women’s agency at all levels and in all actions. This is only possible if we are able to catalyze gender transformative change at a wide scale. 

There are five points I would like to flag as we embark on applying and GTAs

  1. Business as usual does not work: Applying and scaling GTAs calls for a paradigm shift in the way we do our business. It is about doing different things and doing things differently. We have to move away from treating women as passive recipients of technologies to nurturing and capacitating them to be agents driving technical and social change processes. GTAs need to be embedded in our R4D Projects and programs to be effective and should not be seen as stand-alone initiatives. Finding the right entry points to integrate GTAs in these projects is critical. Gender transformative change takes time and is facilitation intensive. It cannot be imposed or be top-down. There are no quick fixes. The cookie-cutter approach does not work in this case – social and gender norms are context-specific and, therefore, the approaches need to be tailored based on a sound understanding of the local context. Facilitating such processes takes special competencies and skills. These capacities need to be built in agricultural R&D organizations.

  2. Scaling change rather than the use of tools: As we embark on this, the question that emerges is about what we scale – is it the tools? Is it the principles and approaches? The tools and approaches are only a means to an end and we should instead aim for scaling the depth and extent of structural change using them. This, in turn, requires adequate and relevant capacities, investments, policy support, and commitment. The transferability of these approaches across sectors needs attention. The health and education sectors have the longest track record in using these approaches and have achieved significant positive outcomes. Changes in social and gender norms and structures benefit all sectors irrespective of where it originates. Working with these sectors would make us more efficient and provide greater value for money.

  3. Partnerships are critical: Social change is complex and the wicked challenges we face today cannot be addressed effectively by a single organization. Therefore, multi-sectoral and innovative partnerships with GOs, NGOs, Civil Society, and the private sector are critical to addressing systemic problems. We need public-private partnerships for improving infrastructure, employment, education, markets, financial services and products, income generation opportunities, and entrepreneurship to address some of the key barriers women face and expand their economic opportunities. In addition, we need to partner with sectors and organizations that engage in social and behavioral change communication and other interventions, like engaging men and boys, to address social norms and shift the power dynamics for women. These partnerships, however, will only be effective and sustainable if the partners have measurable goals, the unique strengths of each of the partners are deployed and, there is a clear value preposition for all members.

  4. Monitoring gender transformative change: Social change is complex and not everything is tangible or measurable. However, it is important to systematically monitor both the processes and results. Evidence on what works and what does not in catalyzing widespread gender transformative change is scant. Our standard monitoring and evaluation tools, methods, and indicators might not be adequate. Some advances have already been made in this area and these need to be applied widely and refined but generating this evidence is very important to inform policy and practice for wider benefits.

  5. Walking the talk: Last, but most important, is that change needs to start with our own organizations. Our behaviors, attitudes, and cultures need to mirror what we are trying to achieve.  Organizational introspection is important to assess whether we are ready to facilitate this change. How do our norms, cultures, and structures measure up? Would they facilitate or constrain us from embracing these approaches and be effective?;

I believe we are at a turning point in our efforts to promote gender equality. We cannot afford to lose this opportunity if we are to effectively address climate change through the empowerment of women.