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Addressing gender inequalities for more sustainable food systems

Woman smiling in an agricultural field. Photo by Safari Consoler via Pexels

This literature review explores the extent to which gender inequalities are considered in climate change policies, investments, and interventions related to food systems. Climate change has differential impacts on men and women. Whilst the findings suggest a growing body of literature related to potential interventions, more work is required to fully assess the trade offs and barriers of actions aimed at improving gender differentiated climate outcomes. There is also a considerable lack of research on the intersection of gender, climate change and food systems, with most previous research limited to looking at the role of gender in agricultural production.

Summary

This literature review explores the extent to which gender inequalities are considered in climate change policies, investments, and interventions related to food systems. They focus on the potential of “climate-smart” and “climate-resilient” interventions - enhancing productivity, increasing resilience, and mitigating GHG emissions - and consider the consequences of inadequately taking gender differences into account. The authors frame their review by noting that, in general women globally have contributed to making food systems more resilient to climate change, a contribution which is often overlooked.

The authors find, within a growing body of research, that climate change has differential impacts on men and women. They also find that there has been significant work on facilitating women’s empowerment and gender-transformative change through “climate-smart” agriculture (CSA). The authors build from this previous research to examine other dimensions wellbeing outcomes that are mediated by gender differences including:

  1. Exposure and sensitivity to shocks and stressors
  2. Resilience and adaptive capacities of men and women
  3. Preferences for uptake of climate change responses
  4. Gendered integration in the design and implementation of policies, investments and interventions, and participation in decision-making and leadership
  5. Outcomes of climate change as a result of climate disturbances and the chosen responses at multiple scales

The authors review a number of investigations which find gendered differences in the responses and outcomes related to climate change related shocks. Whilst women are generally more likely to experience more negative outcomes, such as hunger and food insecurity, the authors note the importance of nuancing this observation, since vulnerability varies by age, class, ethnicity and other intersectional identities as well within different contexts. They call for more research using intersectional approaches or those that include indicators of transformative change, such as changing gender attitudes (e.g., masculinities). Several examples and case studies are reviewed detailing gender-differentiated outcomes, including multiple sustainable agriculture initiatives, women’s involvement in leadership positions, and response options to climate stressors such as heat and drought.  

The authors find that other factors, such as access to information, technologies, resources and financial services as well as contextual social norms can limit response options for women. The authors point to this as a reason for building the adaptive capacities of women as a pathway to reducing their vulnerabilities and promoting their contribution to climate change adaptation and mitigation efforts. 

Beyond reviewing the gender-differentiated outcomes to climate change, the authors reviewed initiatives aimed at reducing gender inequality through “gender-smart” climate investments and interventions. They find several successful examples of initiatives including those aimed at increasing women's access to opportunities, such as education and schemes that provide payment for ecosystem services, citing the Bolse Verde project in Brazil. Other examples include providing inclusive climate finance options, such as crop insurance and bundled weather index insurance products aimed specifically at increasing women’s access to financial services. The authors also cite examples which promote expanding access to climate information services and group-based approaches such as micro-lending and self-improvement groups as social networks. The authors do note a lack of work that addresses structural inequalities and institutional barriers across local, regional and national intervention scales. 

The authors conclude that whilst the findings suggest a growing body of literature on case examples of potential interventions to address gender-differentiated outcomes, more work is required to fully assess the trade offs and barriers of these approaches. They also find a considerable lack of research on the intersection of gender, climate change and food systems, with most previous research limited to looking at gender in relation to only one aspect of food systems, agricultural production.

Abstract

Climate change affects every aspect of the food system, including all nodes along agri-food value chains from production to consumption, the food environments in which people live, and outcomes, such as diets and livelihoods. Men and women often have specific roles and responsibilities within food systems, yet structural inequalities (formal and informal) limit women's access to resources, services, and agency. These inequalities affect the ways in which men and women experience and are affected by climate change. In addition to gender, other social factors are at play, such as age, education, marital status, and health and economic conditions. To date, most climate change policies, investments, and interventions do not adequately integrate gender. If climate-smart and climate-resilient interventions do not adequately take gender differences into account, they might exacerbate gender inequalities in food systems by, for instance, increasing women's labor burden and time poverty, reducing their access to and control over income and assets, and reducing their decision-making power. At the same time, women's contributions are critical to make food systems more resilient to the negative impacts of climate change, given their specialized knowledge, skills and roles in agri-food systems, within the household, at work and in their communities. Increasing the resilience of food systems requires going beyond addressing gendered vulnerabilities to climate change to create an enabling environment that supports gender equality and women's empowerment, by removing structural barriers and rigid gender norms, and building equal power dynamics, as part of a process of gender transformative change. For this to happen, more research is needed to prioritize structural barriers that need to be removed and to identify effective gender transformative approaches.

Reference

Bryan, E., Alvi, M., Huyer, S., Ringler, C., 2024. Addressing gender inequalities and strengthening women’s agency to create more climate-resilient and sustainable food systems. Global Food Security 40, 100731.

Read more here. See also the FEED podcast Ken Giller on the Food Security Conundrum and the blog by Rebecca Sanders Use, Misuse and Abuse - a vet reflects on animal exploitation

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