Climate action needs to be gender-sensitive

Climate action needs to be gender-sensitive

In many developing countries women will be impacted more by climate change than men. We talked to Jacqueline Terrillon, SNV’s Global Technical Advisor for Gender and agriculture, about the reasons behind this and how SNV is addressing this gap in its projects. Jacqueline is based in Burkina Faso and works with projects in the agriculture sector to strengthen their gender approach.

We hear that climate change has different impacts on men and women. Could you explain this a bit?

There are all sorts of indicators that show that women are more vulnerable to climate change: for instance, according to UN figures, 80% of displaced people because of climate change are women and children. In addition, they have limited decision-making power, so they cannot influence policies that will help them adapt, nor what kind of resources or infrastructures will be built, allowing them to access water or clean sources of energy for example.

Men and women are socialised differently. Women become mothers and caregivers and they are responsible for most of the household chores. In farming families in developing countries, women often provide a large share of the labour. As the landowners, men are the main decision-makers on how to use resources at the household level and on the farm. So they tend to decide on what to produce and how much, which inputs and technologies to use. This also has an impact on women’s mobility and on their access to services and information.  Women’s limited decision-making not only happens at the household-level but also in farmer-based cooperatives and other organisations. Most members are men, leadership positions are held by men. This is also seen in women’s positions in the political arena worldwide: if we look at national level parliamentarians, only 24 percent are women. This pattern is repeated across all spheres of life.

Women’s situation affects their ability to cope with the different effects of climate change. For example, women are often responsible for fetching water or firewood: when there is a drought, they have to travel further to find these resources. This has an impact on time spent, drudgery and on their health. Also, because of increasing droughts, men leave rural communities and migrate to towns or other countries to look for work. The women remain behind alone and are then responsible for the children. They don't always have a source of income, so they are in a very difficult situation. These families often suffer from malnutrition.

This disadvantaged situation of women was also recognised in the Paris Agreements which made special provisions for women.

What do you think SNV’s strong point in this space?

If we go back to our Balancing Benefits approach, it has four pillars. It works on multiple levels, from the micro/household to the systemic level. We facilitate household dialogues to foster joint planning and decision-making in farming households on production and use of resources. Second, we support women's agro-businesses. Third, we promote women leadership and fourth, we support the development of an enabling environment. In terms of climate change, by empowering women, we enable them to have more influence over decisions- that will affect their adaptation and mitigation capabilities. If you train women in leadership, they can have the ability to influence decisions on adoption of climate smart innovations – this helps to create climate change mitigation and adaptation at the household and community levels. So our approach addresses many of the issues that play a role in the gender-climate nexus and can help women to become agents of climate change.

We are embedding this approach into all our projects, to make sure that women will be able to influence mitigation and coping strategies. For example, in the SILMS project in Zambia, cocoa projects in Ghana and Cameroon and the Drylands Development project in five countries, we built the capacities of women on integrated water management, land management and agro-forestry. The SNV bio-digester programme is active in 16 countries. It not only generates benefits in terms of improved health, productivity and job creation for youth, but bio-digesters are also a very important climate change mitigation strategy.

It is important to realise that one size does not fit all. Using gender mappings and workshops, we gather information about both men and women’s perspectives and needs. With that information, we adjust our approaches to adapt them to different social categories and socio-cultural contexts. We are very careful to foster change while avoiding to create or exacerbate tensions. Our local presence for more than 50 years means that we have local staff and that we work through local partners. We have an intimate knowledge of the local context.

What is the role of the private sector in this process do you think?

Companies in developing countries see an opportunity in investing in climate-smart solutions, but they also look at opportunity costs. They are starting to understand that it is a matter of survival, but often the benefits are not clear to them or they don’t have the means to adjust, so change is happening slowly. Moreover, many of the solutions that become available are not gender-sensitive.

What is SNV doing to change this situation?

In our projects, we are encouraging businesses to scale their climate-smart innovations and services. For instance, in the CRAFT project in East Africa, we work with “business champions” to introduce such innovations. We work with businesses to develop and scale innovations that will help farmers’ resiliency. To find out which tools and services are needed, we organised workshops with farmers, to ask them what their observations are, how they experience climate change and what coping mechanisms they developed to adjust.

We make sure to be gender-sensitive in this process: we capture both men and women's perspectives, only by knowing what women need and by understanding their challenges, can we increase their resilience and empower them. Women have less decision-making power and less access to finance. There are many barriers that would prevent them from accessing technologies or innovations. Services and various technologies have to be adapted and accessible to women. You cannot treat people as a homogeneous group, you need to capture both men’s and women’s perspectives and adjust your approach.

We noticed for example that the Garbal phone service that provides information on meat market prices, the weather and availability of water along transhumance routes in Burkina Faso is barely used by women: the information is not relevant to them. We are now trying to adjust the offered services and information so that it will also be useful to women.

How can we accelerate the adoption process?

Improving the access and provision of information as well as advocacy efforts are essential, I think. SNV is working on this explicitly for example in the Voice for Change programme to influence policies and the private sector on clean energies. We also work on behaviour change in many projects, directly and indirectly.

The financial sector would have a similar role in this, I think. If they see the opportunity, they will provide funding. This is where projects such as the Dutch Fund for Climate and Development comes in, to accelerate this process.