Gender: from latecomer to shaping a new research agenda for agriculture and climate change

Gender has been seen as a latecomer to the field of climate change. This hasn't stopped it however from becoming a key area for both climate change and food security research in the past few years. Photo: CIFOR

The influence of gender as a key research dimension has really helped transform how we do our research and carry out agriculture projects. But despite progress, the field of gender in this particular context is suffering from a number of stereotypes and generalizations about women that need to be debunked before we can move forward.

Gender has been seen as a latecomer to the field of climate change. This hasn't stopped it however from becoming a key area for both climate change and food security research in the last few years.

If you want to know more about research on closing the gender gap in farming under climate change:

  • read our special blog series on Closing the gender gap
  • watch the presentations and the panel discussion from the Closing the gender gap event
  • follow the #AgGenderGap event hashtag on twitter

This new, but still "old", field has really changed they way we do our research. Not only that, but by integrating a gender aspect to activities previously considered “gender-neutral”, such as crop research and agriculture development, gender-thinking has helped us change for the better. We are now working towards a better understanding of how roles and responsibilities based on gender might impact opportunities to build climate resilient farms. Including a gender aspect has really helped push the research agenda and opened up a new and much needed way of viewing agriculture and climate research as well as monitoring the success of a project.

Gender not as straightforward as one might think

Lately there have been a number of discussions around the way the climate policy debate and the literature on climate change have created two roles, or themes, for women linked to the environment. A number of these discussions originate from a facinating article prepared by Seema Arora-Jonsson “Virtue and vulnerability: Discourses on women, gender and climate change” published in 2010.

In the article Arora-Jonsson explains that in the climate literature there seems to be a recurrent theme to depict women as either victims, or more virtuous than men. Women as victims mean that they are more vulnerable to climate change and without agency to act or change themselves or their communities.

More virtuous than men builds on the idea that women are more sensitive to risks and are therefore more prepared for and willing to change behaviour. There are also underlying ideas that women are predisposed to being more environmentally friendly than their male counterparts, which is then used to bring women into environmental protection projects to “lead the way” for the rest of the community.

Read: Rural women in developing countries are not necessarily victims

Many times these two roles are based on generalizations and stereotypes. Much of what we know today about gender in the context of climate change are over-simplified facts about the complex world we live in, Arora-Jonsson writes.

We can’t however deny the fact that women, in both “developed” and “developing” countries, are experiencing inequality, from receiving lower wages than men, carrying much of the workload in the households and/or on farms, are being kept out from decision-making board-rooms and meetings, and face other injustices on a daily basis. This in the end might impact women’s abilities to adapt to a changing climate or participate in mitigation activities. But even if women are facing an unequal society, that doesn’t mean women don’t have agency, or that they alone should care for the environment. Need less to say that we all have a role to play in that.

What needs to happen?

It is not until we realise that men and women all over the world face different socio-economic challenges and opportunities, institutions and power-dynamics based on where they live, that we can move forward to investigate the context-specific constraints men and women face in adapting to climate change.

Also, dealing with the myths and complexities that surrounds gender within climate change and agriculture research is extremely crucial. Last year the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) took the bull by the horn and organised a seminar debunking some of flourishing gender myths while discussing the need to close the knowledge gap in agriculture and food security. 

The need for more gender-based research within agriculture and climate change is clear. And we have accepted the challenge!

At the moment we are compiling the findings from an extensive field survey done together with the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) that will help us better understand the various constraints and opportunities that men and women farmers face.

What makes an agriculture practice both climate-smart and gender-friendly is also being discussed and here our colleagues at the WorldFish Centre have come a long way looking at various climate-smart aquaculture activities and how suitable they are for both men and women in Bangladesh.
Sensitizing women on what climate change really means, not only prepares them for a more variable climate but also provides them with knowledge that they otherwise might not have received. In the end, the ambition is to empower women to teach others about climate change and make decisions that can help create more resilient farms and households.

There is an increasing need to better understand how women farmers participate in – and lead – innovations that increase food security, while also helping farms adapt to and mitigating climate change. This is why we have embarked on a comprehensive study, looking at various mitigation projects to further understand how resourceful women solve problems and provide leadership within communities, despite numerous hurdles, while investigating how we can replicate and scale up these efforts.

To better understand the gender-dimensions, and other social factors, impacting climate change adaptation and mitigation; we will be releasing a research manual for development practitioners later this year. The process to get the manual underway has been inclusive and iterative, compiling the gathered knowledge and experiences of our many partners. The manual will help researchers and practitioners look beyond "women" to understand how social differentiation and power relations affect livelihoods.

Read all of our blogs dedicated to International Women's Day and this year's theme: Inspiring Change.

Celebrating women accross the world (since tomorrow is International Women's Day):

Related stories:
Blog: Are women “victims” of climate change?
Blog: Toss clichés aside and consider gender in ‘landscape’ context - experts
Blog: Challenging gender assumptions within farming and climate change research
Article: Virtue and vulnerability: Discourses on women, gender and climate change Seema Arora-Jonsson, 2010.

Workshop Report: CCAFS Gender Training and Strategizing Workshop Report
Learn more: Gender and Climate Change (now updated)