Unleashing the potential of rural women as active agents of change

CCAFS gender grant recipient Arame Tall discusses the gender-specific needs within climate information services. Photo: N. Palmer (CIAT)

Edited by Cecilia Schubert. This story features the work of Arame Tall, who is currently participating in the 6th International Conference on Community-based Adaptation (CBA6) in Hanoi, Vietnam.

In an effort to understand how men and women adapt to climate variability and change to maintain food security, the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) initiated a small gender grants program last year. The selected female grant recipients are now performing research in a vast variety of areas, on topics that relate to the linkages between gender and climate change. The idea was to bring forward gender-responsive research within CCAFS priority areas, while at the same time build research capacity among women scientists and increase their representation in agricultural research. All recipients therefore perform their research in one of the program benchmark sites - East Africa, West Africa or South Asia.

Leading up to the release of the final papers, the scientists are beginning to finalize their technical reports. These will be launched together with interviews made with the recipients, discussing their ongoing research, the challenges they’ve faced along the way, and why we need a greater gender focus within climate change research.                                         

Looking closely at gender-specific needs within climate services  

The first featured recipient is Arame Tall, a consultant at the International Federation of the Red Cross and PhD candidate at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. She is investigating gender-specific needs within the field of climate service information, specifically looking at rural communities in Senegal, prone to flooding, droughts and other disasters. The ambition is to see if women’s specific vulnerability to these hazards could be mediated through increased use of timely and understandable climate information to manage risks. The results of this study will be critical for the climate research and development practice communities. Read more about Arame Tall’s research topic here. Arame Tall

Arame hopes that her research will address gender gaps in relation to climate change and food security, understanding how to unleash the productive potential of women for effective climate change adaptation in their communities. “Giving women access to climate and weather-related services, such as forecasts,” she says “is one way to achieve this.”

Why is it important to conduct research on gender?

“Within a community, not everyone is impacted equally. Namely, women bear the biggest burden,” says Arame.

Women face greater challenges and are often left behind to find solutions for the disastrous impact on livelihoods the changing climate patterns and increasingly erratic rains might have. “Unlike their male counterparts or other women in more resource endowed contexts, women within many rural communities in Africa do not control the means of production to make decisions by themselves,” says Arame. This prevents them to make the ‘sweeping changes’ needed to adapt to the new climatic circumstances they are confronted with. This highlights how we must urgently improve our understanding of how climate change will impact men and women differently, so that firm solutions can be put into urgent actions.

Surprising discovery along the way  

Arame Tall’s research sites include three rural community case studies in Senegal, and targets women stakeholders including farmers, cattle-herders and fisherwomen. Arame admits she was surprised to learn some of the different roles and responsibilities men and women have in these areas. “I was shocked to find out that men by custom first plant for themselves right after the first rains in early June, then they plant for their wives about a month into the season,” she said. “Because women cannot access means of production and they have limited alternative opportunities, they and their families are significantly affected,” she continued. “This system might have worked when the rains were predictable, but nowadays the late planting could mean disaster, especially when the rains terminate earlier than before.”

Challenge in getting women to speak up about their situation   

The greatest challenge so far for Arame during her initial research period has been to get women to speak out about their lives and the challenges they face in their everyday life. “In Senegal, you are lucky sometimes to meet a very vocal, confident, and free woman who will explain the situation as it is on behalf other women in the community” she says.  “Getting tongues untied in a community, even as a woman speaking the local language and within a women’s only focus group, is a tough challenge”.

A forum for female farmers

Arame believes that female farmers in Senegal would benefit from participating in a community-wide forum dedicated to the specific issues and difficult farming conditions faced by women farmers.

“Often times,” she says, “people in a community just fall into the trap of habits and the customary. Sometimes, many men do not even realize the hardships that the customary imposes on sub-groups within the community, particularly women, whose load is increasingly heavier to bear as a result of shifting climate circumstances, without concomitant changes in opportunities and access.”

She says that a dialogue on the problems specifically faced by women farmers in the face of a changing climate, will serve to bring to light these specific issues, as well as propose a number of solutions for community discussion and uptake, that could enable the unleashing of women’s opportunities in the community.

Invest in women to fight climate change! hat types of messages would you like to see being communicated by policy makers in your country regarding gender and climate change?

At a national level, Arame would like to hear policy makers dedicate more efforts to community-based needs in climate adaptation, as well as investment in women who face the greatest challenge. “It is my fervent belief that within communities, solutions to adaptation to a more erratic climate future will have to come through the hands of women,” she says. “Women are proven to be vibrant agents of change and invaluable repositories of community knowledge on health and well-being. It is critical to focus on the specific vulnerability of women, if we are to find a durable solution to climate change and alleviate its impacts at the community-level.”

To learn more about Arame Tall’s research and the progress, download her recently finalized technical report “Reducing the Vulnerability of Women Rural Producers to Rising Hydro-Meteorological Disasters in Senegal: Are There Gender-Specific Climate Service Needs?” (PDF).  

Story edited by Cecilia Schubert, based on an interview between Arame Tall and Moushumi Chaudhury.