Weathering the storm or storming the norms: Can climate-smart agriculture produce gender equality?

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As Nitya Rao and colleagues show, a lot is known about the effects of climate change on women. Most research focuses on women’s vulnerability as a result of reliance on natural resources, lower access to resources and information, and gender and social norms that inhibit their ability to take action and participate in making household and community decisions. Less focus has been given to women’s role as active agents of change, their knowledge and capacity to respond to climate impacts, and the causes of their vulnerability.
Climate-smart agriculture (CSA) can produce a range of benefits for women, if they are able to take advantage of them, and emerging research shows CSA can be a supporting condition for gender equality. In India, analysis on impacts of CSA on two villages and use of mobile phones to provide climate-informed advisories found that both women and men experienced empowerment effects in terms of decision making, and use and control of income.

However, gaps and constraints remain. Differences in priorities and ability to adopt new practices for women and men of different ages, abilities and social classes need to be taken into account. Different groups will have different needs and priorities for training, technology and climate information. CSA as an approach in itself will not necessarily be useful for women. Andrea Collins goes as far as suggesting that CSA could undermine a feminist agenda. It may entrench and solidify power if questions are not asked about who is controlling the technology and who benefits. The tendency to allocate new labor-intensive activities to women may increase their labor loads and can mean they will be hesitant to adopt new adaptive practices. A major challenge, therefore, is to identify the context-specific technologies and supporting actions that are needed; along with the trade-offs and co-benefits that different combinations of options will produce.
Emerging research is starting to answer some of these questions. Chanana and Aggarwal suggest the use of a strategy based on “gender climate hotspot” mapping, which explores the participation of women in agriculture, the degree of climate risk, and poverty levels to identify high-risk areas where climatic risks overlap with a high proportion of women in agriculture. Another approach is to assess the gender-responsiveness of CSA technologies in terms of their effects on women’s labor burden—in other words, to what degree does CSA reduce women’s labor while improving agricultural productivity and income?

Indicators of access to and control of agricultural resources, participation in decision making around family income and farming, and control over proceeds of agricultural production, among others, are being developed to assist policymakers and implementers to understand the gender equality and empowerment effects of CSA, and where there are gaps. Only through detailed analysis of gender implications are we likely to “weather the storm” as well as storm the norms.

This letter draws on the introduction to the special issue of Climatic Change on “Gender Equality in Climate Smart Agriculture: Framework, Approaches and Technologies,” Vol 158, Issue 1, January 2020. 


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