Bringing Women to the Forefront of Climate Change Adaptations Efforts: A New SDG Target

 In GEH Blog

Women play a critical role in a natural resources management within their household. In low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), 8 out of 10 women are responsible for collecting water for their household. Women are responsible for over 70% of water-related chores and management globally. In India alone, women make up over 65% of the agricultural workforce.

There is global consensus that women are integral to climate change dialogue, not just because of their role and dependence on natural resources, but also because of their disproportionate vulnerability to climate change threats. This international Women’s Day, given the theme of Balance for the Better, which emphasizes equal participation of women in all aspects of society, we want to bring attention to the issue of women’s equal involvement in climate change action planning, globally.

The Problem: Climate Change Burdens for Women

Too often women are left out of climate, change action planning, despite the disproportionate effect it has on them. Research from Rakai, Uganda, for example, has found that while women are more likely than men to notice the climate change impacts on agricultural productivity, livestock problems and water availability, they were less likely than men to receive key information on climate and agricultural information that would allow them to plan for climate concerns. A second study from Uganda demonstrates an important link between climate change and women’s risk for abuse. Financial stresses due to crop failure and resultant loss in household income increase marital stress, and can result in spousal violence against women. It can also result in economic abuse of women, as men often want to sell the crops the women have grown in the dry seasons, without engaging their wives on the decision.

Climate change and resultant natural disasters are also a greater burden and risk for women. In the 2004 Tsunami in Thailand, more women than men died because they stayed back to look for children and relatives as per their gender roles, and because they did not know how to swim and girls vulnerable to sexual abuse and exploitation, particularly in contexts of pre-existing economically vulnerability. Subsequent to the 2016 hurricane in Haiti, cases of sex trafficking of girls increased, as economic deprivation rapidly rose in the region. Following the 2015 earthquake in Nepal, early marriage of girls increased, due to concerns regarding the vulnerability of orphaned girls.

The Solution: Women as Agents of Change in Climate Change Action Planning and Adaptation 

While these gendered vulnerabilities are a concern, women are not mute and powerless spectators in the face of climate change. There is emerging evidence regarding the value of women-led climate change adaptation efforts from across the globe. Women are described simultaneously as ‘shock absorbers’ and ‘agents of change’ for climate change adaptation.

Despite the inequalities and challenges faced by women contending with the effects of climate change, there are several examples of women-led climate change planning and adaptation efforts. In Bhadrak, Orissa India, women collectives or self-help groups (SHGs) have come together to generate solutions to ensure potable drinking water, in the face of increased salinity in local ground-water due to a rise in sea water levels and decreasing monsoon. Women are adversely affected as their time and distance traveled to collect water increases, they are concerned about the health consequences for themselves and their children. SHGs also provide a platform for women to discuss flooding and associated women-specific concerns such as the lack of privacy during menstruation and sanitation.

One unique program in North Eastern Kenya utilized community-driven photo stories to encourage women to speak up about climate change, specifically on the drought affecting their community. The women belong to pastoralist Muslim families, and are not traditionally encouraged to speak up. Through community discussions and the creation of short videos, these women were able to share their experiences and strategies to survive long periods of drought. The male members of this community wanted to see these videos to better understand the issues and adaptation strategies of climate change.

Other efforts are isolated experiments from the ground that have shown great promise, such as in the case of the Nahi community in West Bengal, India. The Nahi women started to place their chicken coops over ponds. The women realized that the chicken poop that fell into the pond can act as fish feed, and result in larger fish. This method has yielded great economic benefit to these women and their families, and I helped maintain or improve livelihood.

Tracking Gender Equality and Climate Change: Measurement and Monitoring Needed 

While opportunity for engagement in climate change action planning may be increasing among women, we have little evidence to confirm that this is the case. There remains a paucity of data documenting women’s roles and engagement in climate change adaptation.

As part of broader efforts of the EMERGE Project to identify measures of gender equality and empowerment, we looked specifically at measures on these issues as related to climate change action. We could identify no single standard measure focused on these issues. Similarly, global indicators on women and climate change action are also lacking. The UN Minimum Set of Gender Indicators has no measures on gender equality and climate, likely because there are no clear Sustainable Development Goal targets for this. Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 13 calls for ‘urgent action to combat climate change and its impact,’ and makes specific reference to strengthening resilience and adaptive capacity. However, there are no gender specific targets or indicators within this goal. Related SDGs, #6 on water and sanitation, #7 on energy, #14 on life below water and #15 on life on land, contribute to the climate change dialogue, but also lack gender sensitive indicators. There is one indicator, within SDG 5 (gender equality), that furthers this dialogue by recommending the measurement of land ownership among the agricultural population, by sex. Certainly, this would be an advancement, but land ownership is not by itself a means of ensuring women’s engagement in climate change planning efforts.

Existing SDG 13 indicators focus on weather-based and geological indicators such as global temperatures, precipitation, carbon dioxide emissions, energy consumption, land use and others. However, these measures lack a gender equality perspective.


While there are global calls for greater engagement of women and issues of gender equality in climate change action planning, there is an absence of data or even standard measures or indicators to assess if we are on a path to achieving this goal. It is imperative establish a baseline for SDG change at the earliest, and for this we need to improve the quality and the types of data we collect on gender and climate change. The research community has a responsibility to support the work already being done and to amplify its successes, and for this we will need better measures of women’s participation, decision-making, innovations and processes of empowerment in climate change adaptation.


Authored by: Namratha Rao & Anita Raj 

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