Can social protection promote women’s and girls’ climate resilience?

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After two weeks of debate at COP28, the message is clear that climate change is hitting hardest some of those already most vulnerable and rapidly exacerbating inequalities, including gender inequality. Climate action is urgently needed – at scale, and with a gender lens.

In the CGIAR Initiative on Gender Equality (also known as HER+), we have been accelerating research with partners around the world to understand the role that social protection programs in low- and middle-income countries can play in boosting women’s and girls’ climate resilience, as well as to explore which program designs are promising for this objective. Because social protection programs – and particularly social assistance programs – reach many resource-poor women and girls who tend to face disproportionate climate risk, these programs are a promising platform to leverage. Social protection stakeholders also increasingly show interest in making their programming responsive to climate adaptation and gender equality, but scarce guidance exists on what designs achieve this. Our work aims to collaboratively generate this evidence and support stakeholders in understanding it to guide their programming.

Early highlights of our research include an ongoing evidence review that indicates social assistance programs can at large scale protect women’s and girls’ well-being against adverse impacts of climate change and strengthen their roles as agents of change. For instance, these programs can improve households’ coping with climate hazards and reduce maladaptation that tends to disproportionately harm women and girls, such as liquidating women’s assets or removing girls from school. The review also suggests social assistance programs can support investments in adaptation and diversification of livelihoods but indicates they may work particularly well for women’s transformative adaptation when bundled – for example, combining cash transfers with climate information (such as through “anticipatory cash transfers”), with trainings on climate-resilient livelihoods or technologies, or with inputs such as stress-tolerant seeds. Engaging women and girls in program design also appears important for ensuring that their preferences are incorporated, for example designing public-works based social assistance to create community infrastructure responsive to women’s and girls’ adaptation needs. Claudia Ringler of IFPRI highlighted some of these findings in her remarks on the potential of social protection programs for improving women’s and girls’ climate resilience, including among indigenous peoples, in a session on “Applying a social equity approach to transformative climate change adaptation” at COP28 in the Food & Agriculture Pavilion.

Claudia Ringler of IFPRI at COP28 in the Food Pavillion highlights a new HER+ case study from Ethiopia, showing that an “ultra-poor graduation program” built into Ethiopia’s national social protection program was effective in protecting poor rural households’ and women’s wellbeing from a range of adverse effects of localized droughts. [IMAGE- Martha Awinoh- CGIAR Gender Equality Initiative]
Another research highlight is a promising new HER+ case study from Ethiopia, showing that an “ultra-poor graduation program” built into Ethiopia’s national social protection program was effective in protecting poor rural households’ and women’s wellbeing from a range of adverse effects of localized droughts – including in terms of food security, livestock holdings, and intimate partner violence. The graduation program, implemented by World Vision International, augmented the Ethiopian Productive Safety Net Program with bundled livelihood and nutrition interventions. Doing so helped participants build up assets and savings, which led to reduced maladaptive behaviors during droughts. Because the graduation program included “light touch” interventions, its approach is potentially promising for scaling. Findings have been presented to a range of stakeholders, including to agencies, national partners, and local academics at a learning event hosted by IFPRI in Addis Ababa, and to policymakers, development practitioners, donors, and researchers at a World Bank event in Washington, DC.

We have also been bringing together stakeholders to exchange evidence and discuss promising programmatic approaches and future research in other diverse platforms. We recently convened a high-level webinar and podcast featuring global experts from CGIAR, the World Food Program, the Centre for Disaster Protection, and the International Institute for Environment and Development to discuss how social protection can simultaneously promote climate adaptation, poverty reduction, and gender equality. Last year, our team met with WFP Heads of Program from West and Central Africa, to discuss aligning social protection and climate action, highlighting important questions on gender. We also convened a virtual roundtable inviting stakeholders across social protection, climate change, and gender to share insights from research and practice at the intersection of these areas and to create a network for dissemination and uptake.

Recognizing the devastating consequences that climate change brings, we feel the urgency of knowing better and doing better. With our partners, we work toward generating and disseminating evidence that can make social protection programs of the future more inclusive and more effective in supporting the world’s women and girls.

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