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“We can change our lives with this information”: Empowering rural women in South Asia to adapt to climate change

Some of the Punjabi Panchayat members, with the trainers, CCAFS, and IFFCO.
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Guest blog from Katharine Vincent and Tracy Cull

Variations in rainfall, temperature and extreme events brought about by climate change will not affect women and men in the same way.  In most cases, the reasons for the different experiences are not due to physical differences, but due to gender differences. Gender refers to the roles that societies ascribe to men and women, determining what activities and responsibilities are appropriate for each sex. The majority of societies in the world are patriarchal, meaning that men are at the forefront of decision-making and hold the bulk of power. 

Women have great capacity to support adaptation

In patriarchal societies, women can suffer more adverse effects than men from climate change. The reasons for this are many: they typically have lower education levels than men, meaning they are less aware of technology and opportunities. They are also often responsible for agricultural activities and ensuring that their families have food to eat.  Agriculture is one of the sectors that is most exposed to climate change, given the close reliance of production on weather conditions.  That said, since women have so long been associated with farming, they are closely attuned to conservation of soil and water resources, and thus have great capacity to support adaptation – if they are empowered to act with appropriate knowledge.

Using a 'Training of trainers ' concept to empower women 

Recognising the opportunity to empower women to adapt to climate change, CCAFS has initiated a project in South Asia to run Capacity Enhancement Workshops for rural women farmers and women legislators on climate change. Towards that end, an initial Training of Trainers was run by Kulima Integrated Development Solutions on 25-26 November in New Delhi, India (See the PPT here). Potential trainers from India, Sri Lanka and Nepal attended the event, learning content on projected climate change, its (gender-differentiated) impacts, and adaptation options, as well as techniques to communicate this information to rural women village leaders. These trainers came from a diverse range of backgrounds and brought with them different expertise in gender, climatology, agriculture, and grassroots development. In the future, they will be partnering with CCAFS to use the skills obtained to run Capacity Enhancement Workshops to train rural women farmers and legislative members (e.g., Indian Panchayat). The ultimate aim is to empower women at the grassroots to understand that they are able to make choices that enable adaptation to climate change but require little financial or technological investment.

gender gap examples

Following the Training of Trainers, the first Capacity Enhancement Workshop was held on 27 November in Sangrur, in the Punjab state of India. Organised by a local partner, IFFCO Foundation, the workshop was attended by nearly 40 elected women Gram Panchayat legislators from various local villages in the region. University professors Kulwinder Kaur Gill and Prabhjyot Kaur Sidhu put their New Delhi training knowledge to use, linking observed changes in climate to the causes and projected future impacts on local agriculture. They then facilitated a discussion with the women on potential adaptive responses. The women Panchayat leaders proved to be an attentive and vocal audience, actively participating by asking questions and sharing their own experiences.

Outcome of the workshop: Women to spread the word

CCAFS-IFFCO evaluations showed that the women left the workshop feeling empowered by the information and motivated to act. Gram Panchayat women legislators committed not only to introducing their own adaptations, including harvesting rainwater and planting trees, but also to supporting mitigation, through reducing the common local practice of rice straw burning (see photos here). Perhaps most importantly, the women left the workshop armed with messages that they committed to convey to their fellow villagers, with one woman saying, “we will go door-to-door to tell people what we have learned today.”

To see more pictures from the workshop view the photoset "Capacity Enhancement Workshop on Gender and Climate Change Adaptation in Punjab, India". 

Katharine Vincent and Tracy Cull, from Kulima Integrated Development Solutions, are gender and climate change experts who have many years experience training rural communities, particulary women, on climate change and natural resource management. They are also engaged in more policy-level discussions, particularly in Africa.