Does gender make a difference in dealing with climate shifts?

October 27th, 2010

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) and local Indian institutions, with the support of the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), carried out research in rural farming communities of drought-prone areas of Andhra Pradesh on the gender aspects of ensuring food security in the context of climate variability and climate change.
The initial hypothesis was to explore whether roles – the behaviours, tasks and responsibilities a society defines as “male” or “female” – men and women are diversely affected by and cope differently with climate variability and longer term change. FAO’s research reveals that there is a strong gender dimension to the impacts of climate shifts on farmers’ livelihoods and in farmers’ coping strategies to ensure food security.
Through the results of participatory focus group discussions, a quantitative survey, institutional analysis and meteorological analysis, the research expands the understanding of what it means to be vulnerable to climate change, by painting a picture of gender-specific dimensions of risks and opportunities for coping.
The focus group discussions revealed that both men and women farmers are facing multiple challenges, including deforestation, indebtedness and chronic food insecurity.
As has been documented elsewhere, farmers’ livelihoods are no longer based solely on agriculture, and migration for wage labour is an increasingly important strategy. In this context, some of the initial results of the survey of 200 men and women farmers on their perceptions and responses to climate shifts are the following:
  • Men and women farmers agree that the weather has changed over the past thirty years, but view the impacts differently. Men are more likely to report that the weather changes have impacted farm production, while women are more likely to report that they have affected health.
  • Women and men have different opinions of who is impacted by extreme climate events. Women (26.4%) are much more likely than men (7.4%) to report that women were most affected by drought.
  • There is a strong gender difference in preferred strategies for coping with long-term increased climate variability. When asked what livelihood strategies they would adopt if the weather was no longer predictable from year to year, men would prefer to migrate (47% men vs. 18% women would migrate) while women would opt to go for wage labour (38% men vs. 57.5% women).
  • Men and women have different strategies for coping with food scarcity, and they also do not share the same perception of these strategies. To cope with food scarcity during a drought year, 5% of men note that the women eat less, while 17% of women report that women eat less as a coping strategy.
  • The majority of farmers are not receiving vital information on weather alerts or cropping patterns, however this lack of access to information is much more acute among women. Only 21% of women report having access to this information versus 47% of men.
  • Gender is the greatest predictor of institutional support, greater than caste or size of land holding.

The findings will be useful advice to policy and decision makers as well as to researchers seeking to build a solid knowledge base for future short or long term action.

Based on the preliminary results, the answer posed at the beginning can be answered: Yes. Gender does make a difference in dealing with climate shifts as research in the South of India shows, both for the farmers responding on a daily basis and to policymakers providing long-term institutional support. It is clear that interventions must consider climate shifts in terms of what it means to the world’s most vulnerable people, especially poor women and men farmers.

Planning for adaptation to long term change should be founded on men and women farmers’ knowledge and experiences as they make choices in an uncertain climate.