HER+ second high-level dialogue in New Delhi explores gender and climate research for resilient agrifood systems in South Asia

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Like many other regions across the globe, South Asia is grappling with the challenges posed by climate change.   World Bank estimates that 750 million people in South Asia have been affected by at least one climate-related disaster. The hazards and extreme weather events range from cyclones, monsoon rainfall variability, floods, heat waves, increased average temperatures and salinity in coastal areas, jeopardizing food security and people’s livelihoods. Amid these challenges, South Asian countries are working towards increasing women’s and girls’ rights, disrupting access to empowerment opportunities and essential resources.

The CGIAR Gender Equality Research Initiative, HER+, aims to counter the challenges of growing inequalities due to climate change and bolster climate resilience by dismantling structural barriers to gender equality in agrifood systems. In 2022, HER+ organized the first high-level dialogue on gender and climate change in Nairobi, followed by a second dialogue in New Delhi on October 13, 2023. The latter facilitated knowledge exchange on challenges and solutions for gender equality and climate resilience in agrifood systems across India and the wider South Asia region. It welcomed stakeholders from various sectors—government officials, farmer representatives, gender and climate experts, researchers, the private sector, and donors. The video highlights of the dialogue meeting are available here: Watch the recording

In her opening remarks, Dr Purnima Menon, CGIAR senior director for food and nutrition policy, set the tone by emphasizing the profound impact of climate change on society and signaling the key role played by partnerships and research as an entry point to achieving social equality. Purnima emphasized that women play a crucial role in agriculture and society at large, highlighting the urgent need for development partners to invest in generating evidence that helps understand how to support women in their livelihoods and climate action. She stated: “We simply cannot make progress on either the climate agenda, or any other broader development agenda, without keeping our focus strongly on what is happening to women, who make up fifty percent of the planet.”

In his keynote address, Dr P. Chandra Shekara, director general of the National Institute of Agricultural Extension Management (MANAGE) in India, stated, “In South Asia, women are often the unsung heroes of our agri-food systems. Women are increasingly seen as more vulnerable than men to the impacts of climate change, mainly because they are proportionally more dependent on threatened natural resources. Despite their vulnerability, women should not only be seen as victims of climate change, but also as active and effective agents and promoters of adaptation and mitigation.” He emphasized that gender-sensitive approaches like collective action are crucial for effective and equitable climate mitigation and adaptation strategies in South Asia. He underscored the need for inclusive policies empowering women in climate action.

Dr P. Chandra Shekara, director general of the National Institute of Agricultural Extension Management (MANAGE) in India keynote address underscored the need for inclusive policies empowering women in climate action. [PHOTO: Michael’s Photography, New Delhi].
Introducing the HER+ Research Initiative, Dr Els Lecoutere, lead of HER+, outlined the initiative’s four research work packages aimed at challenging gender inequalities and empowering women in the face of climate risks. The first work package, TRANSFORM, investigates solutions to challenge discriminatory social institutions; the second work package, EMPOWER, works on climate-smart socio-technical innovation bundles designed to enhance the resilience and empowerment of women; the third work package focuses on ways to PROTECT women through social protection in the face of climate change, and the fourth work package develops and tests innovations to enhance women’s VOICE and decision-making power in governance. Highlighting the necessity for collective efforts involving policymakers, farmers, researchers, donors, and the private sector, she reiterated the imperative of building just, sustainable, and resilient agrifood systems through collaboration and inclusivity.

Research and innovations for gender equality and climate resilience in agrifood systems

During the HER+ research and innovations presentations, Steve Cole, lead of the TRANSFORM work package, highlighted that discriminatory social institutions are key drivers of numerous challenges in Tanzania and Nigeria. He shed light on an innovative framework to investigate normative constraints to gender equality in agrifood systems. This framework guides the next phases of the research, including the development of the multi-dimensional gendered ‘social norms in agrifood system index’. The subsequent phases include stakeholder validation and consultation to tackle identified normative constraints, coupled with partnerships established with the Joint Program on Gender Transformative Approaches for Food Security and Nutrition. This evidence-based consultation will inform the development and execution of gender transformative approaches, fostering collaboration with stakeholders to combat these constraints.

The fireside conversation between Steve Cole and Dr Padmaja Ravula, senior scientist at ICRISAT India, affirmed the relevance of addressing gender norms in the context of climate change, particularly in South Asia. Dr Padmaja Ravula discussed an ICRISAT watershed project operating in an area facing water scarcity and entrenched societal disparities based on caste and patriarchy. While the project successfully increased crop, fodder, and livestock production—allocating livestock to women—it inadvertently amplified women’s workload due to neglect of gender norms and lack of women’s involvement in shaping and implementing strategies for climate resilience. Inclusive consultations involving men, women, and girls enhance women’s awareness of carbon credits and regenerative agriculture. (Watch the recording)

A discussion with the audience underscored the significance of considering cultural norms, workload distribution, and women’s empowerment within the broader context of agricultural resilience and gender-transformative approaches. Strategies for influencing male-dominated leadership and changing mindsets were discussed in which community role models, mothers, and mothers-in-law may have a role to play.

Dr Ranjitha Puskur, lead of the EMPOWER work package, explained how they support women’s empowerment and climate resilience through socio-technical innovation bundles. She emphasized the importance of climate-smart agricultural technologies and the need to provide women with access to these technologies, along with access to finance and extension services, among others. She emphasized that integrating social innovations into the bundles is crucial because it bolsters climate resilience and empowers women.

The fireside chat with Dr Mahesh Chander, principal scientist at ICAR-Indian Veterinary Research Institute, showcased a shift in technology transfer in agrifood systems. While men have traditionally dominated the discussions with researchers and extension agents, women in South Asia now seek comprehensive and inclusive solutions that cater to their specific preferences and needs. This shift recognizes the crucial role of women in agriculture and emphasizes the necessity for a holistic, gender-inclusive approach to shaping future technology transfer. To ensure sustainability and efficacy, it is vital to consider diverse perspectives and address the needs of both genders in advancing the agricultural sector. (Watch the recording)

Dr Shalini Roy’s presentation on the PROTECT work package highlighted that stakeholders increasingly seek guidance on designing social protection to promote gender equality and women’s climate resilience. She cited an ethnographic study from Bangladesh that suggests gender-responsive social protection, paired with livelihood and disaster resistance training, promoted short-term coping during climate events and women’s longer-term adaptation and climate resilience. HER+ research indicates that the optimal design of social protection for women’s climate resilience may depend on context. Preliminary findings from the Transfer Modality Research Initiative pilot program indicate that it led to higher household incomes and improved agency for women even eight years post-program in northern Bangladesh, whereas more challenges were faced in the cyclone-prone and saline south, with qualitative work suggesting additional program components may be helpful in the latter.

The fireside conversation between Dr Shalini Roy and Ms Raashee Abhilashi, national coordinator for IIED’s ‘Enhancing climate resilience impacts of India’s social protection’ programme emphasized the necessity of gender-sensitive social protection programs. Ms. Raashee Abhilashi reiterated that the impacts of climate change are not uniform among individuals, including by gender, and gender disparities are particularly large in India. Social protection programs reach many and, thus, are an important tool for addressing disparities. Ms. Abhilashi noted that many social protection programs in South Asia focus on women and have been shown to help women build capacities. But she recommended that the research further study behavioral aspects, including how women use social protection resources and technologies, and explore how to engage the community and support technology solutions addressing women’s specific needs. (Watch the recording)

The audience brought up the need to investigate the resilience of households and how they recover to their position prior to the shock, and how recurring shocks erode households’ assets in an iterative way. Shocks that affect whole communities, like droughts, may also need more generalized approaches. In response, Dr Shalini Roy pointed to the diversity of social protection programs that target different aspects of resilience, including the community’s ability to recover from shocks, skills building and support for agriculture, and how they cater to different vulnerable groups. It was discussed how migration triggered by shocks affects households’ income and nutrition. The audience recognized that, alongside social protection, climate insurance may have an important role to play in enhancing resilience, identifying this as a space where governments should get involved.

Dr Katrina Kosec, lead of the work package VOICE, emphasizes the need to shift the narrative of women’s empowerment to focus on women’s power during the high-level dialogue meeting on gender and climate change in South Asia. [PHOTO: Michael Photography, New Delhi].
Dr Katrina Kosec, lead of the work package VOICE, echoed the need to shift the narrative of women’s empowerment to focus on women’s power. She highlighted that the goal of VOICE is to amplify women’s voice and agency in the policy environment and governance of agri-food systems and to empower stakeholders with evidence-based strategies for doing so. Acknowledging the pivotal role of inclusive governance, VOICE addresses the lack of guidance and tools for tracking women’s agency beyond households; collaboratively test interventions to stimulate women’s participation in climate-related governance; and analyzes of public and private sector policies for avenues to enhance women’s resilience to climate change. Examples include piloting the Women’s Empowerment in Agrifood Governance (WEAGov) tool and implementing programs such as empowering rural women in asset support decisions under India’s MGNREGA, alongside training that addresses constraints to women’s agency in community governance in Nigeria. The vision is to assist at least three lower- and middle-income countries (LMICs) in utilizing this knowledge to strengthen women’s voice and agency in agri-food -system governance, thereby enhancing their resilience to climate change.

In the following fireside conversation, Ms Kuntalika Kumbhakar, Integrator at Professional Assistance for Development Action (PRADAN), shared her experience with working on gender equality, climate change, and inclusive governance, emphasizing the importance of placing women at the center of interventions, giving them trainings in advanced agricultural technologies and practices. That boosted women’s confidence in going ahead in adopting change. Sustaining the change brought on by agricultural interventions requires supporting women’s collectives for marketing; where, again, women are entering male-dominated spaces. Women’s confidence and their participation in community governance bodies are instrumental in navigating these spaces. (Watch the recording)

The audience interjected by emphasizing the importance of simultaneously working on women’s external-facing agency and internal household-level dynamics. Building collective power and gender consciousness within the community are essential elements of women’s empowerment and consider women as agents rather than just instruments in achieving program objectives.

Voices of Change: Perspectives from the Gender and Climate Experts Panel

The dialogue continued with a panel discussion with gender and climate experts, moderated by Dr Eileen Nchanji, yielding four critical takeaways:

  1. Climate shocks disproportionately affect women, due to disparities in land access, social norms, and biased policies. Women are often unrecognized as farmers, lacking compensation for crop loss. Profound social norms, especially related to marriage, significantly shape women’s experiences. Safeguarding women’s assets, particularly land, becomes imperative amid climate threats. Encouraging empowerment strategies such as group initiatives, community forestry, and collaborative farming is crucial to secure their assets and livelihoods. – Prof Bina Agarwal, Professor of Development Economics and Environment at the University of Manchester.
  2. Issues surrounding land, assets, social norms, and institutional conditions are pivotal in achieving gender equality and climate resilience. Even when not explicit, the workload borne by women profoundly impacts their lives. Recognizing the diverse experiences and needs of women is crucial for devising comprehensive solutions. – Dr Sandhya Kumar, Scientist Word Vegetable Center
  3. Private enterprises, particularly in the tea value chain, can significantly contribute to fairness and sustainability. Though women are not always visible in this industry, collaboration between public and private entities can foster gender inclusivity and ensure the long-term ethical growth of the tea industry in South Asia. – Ms Ranjana Das, Country Manager India in Ethical Tea Partnership.
  4. HER+ holds substantial potential to advance gender equality efforts. Focusing on cultivating critical knowledge, integrating women’s perspectives into research beyond conventional knowledge transfer, and refining intervention methodologies are key areas of engagement. Exploring agroecology as a catalyst for societal transformation, addressing entrenched norms, biases, and societal constructs, offers significant promise for meaningful change. – Dr Seema Kulkarni, Grassroots work on women and agriculture, including water management.

Moving forward

In closing, Dr Nicoline de Haan, director of the CGIAR Gender Impact Platform, applauded the focus of HER+ on gender and how it brings together different pieces and different partners needed for addressing structural constraints to gender equality and making agrifood systems in South Asia more climate resilient. She reiterated the need for collaborative efforts to bring about systemic change, emphasizing the significance of partnerships for achieving meaningful outcomes.

Moving forward, Dr Daniel Gilligan, co-lead of HER+, set out a roadmap for action. He pointed out notable solutions for averting the negative effects of climate shocks on women’s livelihoods, autonomy and physical integrity, such as financial literacy training for women, conservation agriculture and women-led agro-startups, shared by the keynote speaker and the audience. Recognizing that what is measured is what gets improved, he called on the use of the tools developed by HER+ for measuring normative constraints and women’s voice and agency in policy processes widely. Building on the strength of women getting in front of scientists to state their preferences and needs, the inclusive approach of co-designing socio-technical innovation bundles developed by HER+ is very promising.

To make social protection work for women and build their climate resilience, Dr Daniel Gilligan pointed out the need to expand the evidence base and use that evidence to design more gender-responsive social protection programs; then test these and scale the most effective ones. Finally, he encouraged taking up the evidence on how increasing the number of women participating in mixed groups defines what is on the agenda; quoting Ms Kuntalika Kumbhakar, “Using women as instruments for taking up a program is not alone generating empowerment, women need true voice and agency to be equal.”

In sum, the conversations during the high-level dialogue not only underscored the significant and gendered impact of climate change in agrifood systems in South Asia. It also highlighted the potential of shining a light on gender inequality and generating the evidence, together with partners, of what works to make a difference for women and climate resilience.

Authors: Martha Awinoh, Senior Communication Specialist- HER+ initiative, Carrillo Lucia- Research Analyst in the Poverty Gender and Inclusion unit at IFPRI & Els Lecoutere (ILRI)- Lead of HER+ initiative. 

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