Women and girls in smallholder farming communities play key roles in climate adaptation, and the experts, development professionals, and farmers who participated in a side event of the COP 27 United Nations Climate Conference highlighted the need for and potential of gender-responsive approaches to enhance their contributions.
The side event, sponsored by the CGIAR GENDER Impact Platform (GENDER), brought together researchers from CGIAR and academia and representative of grassroots organizations to reflected on effective ways to build climate resilience in contexts of vulnerability, food insecurity, and conflict.
Anke Oppermann, of Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, noted that women and girls are “agents of change” in agricultural systems, though they carry unequal burdens. She explained that the feminist development policy of Germany’s new government consequently focuses on women and girls in food development programmes, and underscored that gender-just societies are both more peaceful and climate resilient.
Nicoline de Haan, GENDER Platform Director, highlighted the need to “make the invisible visible” with more research on the role of women in food systems. She mentioned the stereotype that women are guardians, which can obscure more nuanced understandings of their relationship to climate resilience, a prominent discourse of women as victims, which overlooks how women can be part of solutions, and the need to recognize gender as relational. De Hann stressed the importance of listening to women and putting resources in their hands, including finance.
“A climate change solution that doesn’t work for women is not a climate change solution,” De Hann said.
Vivian Atakos, outreach manager at the International Potato Center (CIP), who moderated the event, emphasized the need for more research on the role of gender in food systems, the role that an ecosystem-based agroecology can play in reducing inequality and enhancing climate resilience, and the structural, systemic nature of gender-based inequality.
CIP anthropologist Nozomi Kawarazuka explained that it is critical to gather and highlight more narratives from women and marginalized communities about their needs and efforts to build climate resilience.
“Resilience has to come with the word equity,” Kawarazuka said.
William Moseley, a professor at Macalester College, described his research showing how social and economic interconnections have led women farmers to increasingly use herbicides in Africa in response to labor constraints resulting from men abandoning agriculture. He emphasized agroecology as a viable alternative, but cited the need for extension efforts that prioritize getting information and resources to women.
Claudia Ringler, of the International Food Policy Research Institute, showed the results of one such extension effort that used video to introduce women in Uganda to climate resilience strategies. Her research found that women who receive such information are more likely than men to adopt these strategies, and this has the secondary impact of empowering women. Ringler has also found that lack of funds remains a key obstacle to women adopting climate resilient strategies.
Cornell University professor Rachel Bezner Kerr highlighted that the scientific literature, including Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change assessments, shows that the intersection of gender, income, and other mechanisms of marginalization increases vulnerability to climate change. Kerr pointed out that research also shows that agroecology, a “holistic strategy” taking into account multiple dimensions of food systems, can improve food security, nutrition, and gender equality.
Insights from the field
A second panel of experts and practitioners from the field included examples of how grassroots efforts can contribute to closing gender gaps in food systems. Dennis Njung’e, of Grassroots Organizations Operating Together in Sisterhood, Kenya, underscored how women are systematically excluded from development work and that fostering more inclusion requires listening to them and understanding thei preferences for how information is shared. On a fundamental level, Njung’e stressed women’s need for land security, since land access and secure tenure women are essential to produce food.
Mansi Shah, of the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), highlighted her organization’s work to raise the visibility of women as farmers, and its use of video, audio, posters, and other methods to build their capacity to implement green solutions. She added that SEWA has established financial mechanisms that enable women to adopt cleaner biogas energy.
Fatou Jeng, UNFCCC Youth Constituency (YOUNGO), emphasized the need for collaboration and youth leadership in working with development partners, whereas University of Münster professors Tillmann Buttschardt and Cornelia Steïnhauser urged a symbiotic perspective that pays attention to the contexts in which women live and farm.