Gender and Climate Change Adaptation in Agrarian Settings: Research and Implementation

The impacts of climate variability and change on agrarian populations in the Global South are becoming clearer all the time. These impacts, however, are not evenly distributed across these populations. Because different members of these communities engage in different livelihoods activities, have different access to livelihoods resources, and different expectations with regard to their livelihoods roles, exposure to the same shock or stress can produce highly variable vulnerabilities within communities or even households. If we cannot identify and address these different vulnerabilities, we are unlikely to design and implement adaptation interventions that mitigate the negative impacts of climate variability and change.

One means of identifying these different vulnerabilities is through gender analysis. Already a requirement of programming at USAID, gender analysis has done a great deal to highlight the different ways in which men and women experience and negotiate the shocks and stresses produced by climate variability and change. However, not all gender analyses are equal. Most contemporary work on identity recognizes gender as a social category that gains meaning through its intersection with other categories such as age, class, race, or ethnicity. In short, we are never simply “men” or “women” – we are always more complicated. In the course of a day, a man might find himself among students, where he is identified and treated with the deference due to an older man, at a bar where he is surrounded by people of a different ethnicity that highlights his identity as an Ashanti Man, and later at his parent’s house, where he is an eldest son who shows deference to his father. In each of these roles, the same person experiences different capacities to speak and act, and different expectations of his speech and actions by others.

This is not merely an academic quibble about identity. As an extensive literature on gender and development has already made clear, simply dividing a population into men and women and then assessing the different opportunities and challenges associated with each group is likely to overlook the challenges and opportunities of some members of the population – often the most marginal and vulnerable. Working with USAID’s Office of Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment (GENDEV) and the Office of Global Climate Change (GCC), the HURDL team is working to design and promote gender assessments that better capture the complex reality of the lives of the global poor.

HURDL has already produced a large report on gender and adaptation for USAID. This report briefly reviews the literature on gender and adaptation. However, the principle focus of the report is on three empirical case studies that illustrate how simple binary (man vs. woman) gender analysis misses the vulnerabilities and opportunities associated with many women. HURDL has expanded and edited the literature review, and published it in Geography Compass.

Over the next year, HURDL will work with GENDEV and GCC to design and implement pilot gender assessments following the recommendations of this report. The goal of these pilot assessments are threefold:

  1. to inform the design of mission-led projects, ideally resulting in improved design and outcomes
  2. to demonstrate the efficacy of this approach to gender analysis in the project design process
  3. to learn how best to implement such assessments in the context of mission and implementer expectations and demands.