"Nowadays, rains are like a sprinkle on a burning coal"

“Now we are washer women, sanitary workers, wage labourers and house keepers.”
– Female farmers

The FAO recently published its report on the gender differences in adaptive capacity to climate change, according to on-the-ground surveys in India. As the introduction explains, "Gender is one of numerous important socio-cultural dimensions typically included in climate change vulnerability assessments but it is rarely incorporated in adaptation research and planning.

This research tests the hypothesis that due to gender roles (the behaviours, tasks, and responsibilities a society defines as “male” or “female”) and due also to differential gendered access to resources, men and women experience climate variability differently and cope in diverse ways with climate variability and changing climate patterns."

The methodology included surveying farm smallholders (5 or fewer acres, 40-69 years old) in six villages in two drought-prone districts (Mahbubnagar and Anantapur) of the Andhra Pradesh province of India.

Regarding the weather:

  • Farmers did notice unseasonal rains, higher temperatures, longer summers, and warmer winters. However, they did not report an increase in "unpredictable weather" and did not know why the changes were occurring.
  • Men were more likely to report water and fodder shortages, whereas women were more likely to report health issues.

Regarding adaptive capacity:

  • Both genders reported their own gender as more affected. Men felt more pressure to mobilize loans (61%) and provide food (33%), leading to increased emotional stress/anxiety (33%), whereas women reported pressure to provide food (61%) as primary, in addition to increased workload at home (55%) and health problems (36%).
  • Women were less likely to receive adequate farm training, partially because more information is given to larger land holders (who happened to always be male) and partially because cultural practices discouraged women's interactions with outside men, including extension agents.
  • Women and men rely on different  information sources for weather information, reflecting gendered differences in education levels, literacy, and culturally defined roles. In particular, women appeared more likely than men to rely on neighbors (34% to 23%) for information, whereas men appeared more likely than women to rely on traditional knowledge (33%  to14%). A much higher percentage of male respondents (18%) also used newspapers, compared to female respondents (0.9%).
  • While women had access to loans, these loans may be for smaller sums than those available to men.
  • When asked how respondents would cope if weather were to continue to be unpredictable, both men and women said they would seek additional income through wage labour, but women preferred to do so closer to home (local wage labor 57% vs. migration 18%), whereas men were prepared to go farther away (migration 47% vs. local wage labor 38%). "This statistically significant difference along gender lines suggests that if climate becomes unpredictable for the foreseeable future, men and women would prefer wage labour in different locations, with ... implications... for family structure and [its] long-term sustainability." That said, "it appears that incrisis, decisions are more equally shared."
  • Indebtedness seemed to be an important issue, exacerbated by each additional climate shock or poor harvest.

 

Regarding food security and quality:

  • Respondents noted a decrease in food quality over the past thirty years, which may partially be linked to the shift towards purchasing food.
  • One-quarter of respondents said they had sufficient food but not the types they wanted to eat. A majority found their food to be somewhat nutritious, whereas a third did not think it was nutritious at all.
  • Due to historical and cultural patterns, women tend to distribute food first to men, then to children, then finally to themselves. Therefore, women were much more likely to say that their husbands received sufficient food (24%) than men would say their wives received sufficient food (a startling 1%!!).
  • "According to the women, the amount of food available largely depended on the men’s decision on how much to store and how much to sell. Women also noted that while it was the men’s responsibility to sell the crop, women, who were responsible for ensuring the family’s food supplies and also for cooking and distribution of food, would hide some of the crop without the knowledge of the men for the family’s consumption."

What was also notable was the different societal factors at play that contributed to gendered responses to climate change. For instance, "The additional household work of women linked to limited water availability as reported by both men and women appears to reflect socio-cultural changes, rather than resulting solely from reduced water resources caused by changes in climate variability. The qualitative exercises revealed that members of the caste traditionally responsible for washing clothes no longer fulfill that function, and it may be the upward mobility among the oppressed castes, among other social changes, that have led to an increase in household work among the respondents."

In sum, "women’s and men’s perceptions of and responses to impacts of dry conditions, as well as their access to resources and support, differ in important ways. These findings demonstrate that gender analysis enhances our understanding of what farmers perceive as risks and how they respond to climatic changes. Such findings are essential for informing policy decisions by ensuring that the experiences of both women and men are embedded into policy design."