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Intersecting realities: Four approaches to making locally led adaptation more inclusive


The impacts of climate change disproportionately affect the least prepared and most disadvantaged people. Intersecting characteristics such as disability, gender, age, poverty and geographical location can create and reinforce power, privilege, disadvantage and discrimination. 

Yet, on the frontline of the climate crisis, local communities and marginalized groups often lead change and develop innovations and solutions to increase their resilience. Locally led adaptation initiatives must recognize these intersectional power imbalances to be truly empowering. 

What does locally led adaptation look like when intersectionality is intentionally considered as part of an intervention? Here are four insights on this issue that emerged from a peer-learning session hosted by IDRC, the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN), the African Centre for Trade and Development (ACTADE) and the Climate Justice Communities (CJC) programme in Zambia at the 18th International Conference on Community-Based Adaptation to Climate Change (CBA18), which took place in Arusha, Tanzania, in May 2024.

Localization is critical

We need to understand the local context and complexity to design appropriate actions that reflect the will and the preferences of those who can easily be left out because they are socially excluded and to ensure adequate resource mobilization.

UnaMay Gordon, senior advisor, International Institute for Environment and Development

A nuanced understanding of different realities, contexts and hierarchies is key to contributing to equality. Social constructs are diverse and dynamic — we must be aware of them, unpack them and revisit them regularly. 

Inclusive locally led adaptation should ensure local communities can speak for themselves and identify the capacities they want to strengthen, instead of having intermediary organizations speak on their behalf. For example, ACTADE, through the Building community resilience through strengthening the agricultural adaptation knowledge systems in Uganda (CRAKS) project, seeks to improve the adaptation and resilience of semi-arid and climate-vulnerable farming communities by using local, Indigenous and scientific knowledge on climate change. CRAKS, which is part of the Step Change initiative — a partnership between IDRC and the Netherlands to drive equitable and inclusive locally led adaptation —  conducted a gender and social inclusion assessment in the targeted regions to highlight overlapping identities and multiple disadvantages. 

With these intersectional challenges understood, CRAKS is reaching out to marginalized groups, offering spaces to discuss their unique challenges in knowledge creation, sharing and utilization and to generate solutions. Since co-producing new knowledge is important in determining relevant climate change adaptation responses, one of the solutions involves identifying climate champions within marginalized groups. These champions share relevant information using accessible communication channels, such as radio and group meetings, and translate the information into local languages.

Legislation is a key enabler

Social categorization within communities and political systems can sometimes lead to overlapping and interdependent systems of disadvantages and inequalities brought about by political interests and social constructs such as patriarchy.

Esperanza Karaho, CDKN

Legislation can enable us to be more intersectional in our approach. For instance, in Kenya, community climate change governance structures known as Ward Climate Change Planning Committees (WCCPCs) ensure inclusivity and equity in benefit sharing. This effort is carried out by considering the community members' unique experiences, risks and resiliencies in prioritizing and decision-making for locally led climate actions.

recent feasibility study in five Kenyan counties conducted by CDKN highlights how county governments have anchored intersectional inclusion in climate change legislation to ensure that the voices of all social groups in a community are considered in planning and implementing locally led climate actions.

The members of the WCCPCs are representative of each of the communities’ social groups (e.g., women, men, youth, people with disabilities and faith-based organizations), the communities’ livelihoods and the geographies of each county. Members are publicly vetted by the social groups they represent, which builds trust among community members and with the government as the communities plan and make decisions about the issues that directly impact them, upholding the principle of subsidiarity.

Livelihoods should be at the centre of any intersectionality planning

Intersectionality is not about the concepts you read in books, see on TV, or even hear in meetings like this. Addressing intersectionality takes time, the time to sit down and listen to people, women, government officials, and their realities.

Bruce Chooma, disability advisor, CJC program in Zambia

Projects should not dictate but rather convene, facilitate and build people’s confidence and agency, especially when they directly impact livelihoods. Interventions should be co-created to allow communities to build resilience using appropriate sources of knowledge.

CRAKS, for instance, listened to and identified how intersecting issues such as disability, age, poverty and geographical location can exacerbate gender inequalities. One focus group discussion highlighted a youth group’s initiative to form a village savings and loans association. It was set up to help young farmers cope with climate change-related risks. However, it excluded young single mothers from the youth category because now that they were mothers, they were categorized as adults. Knowing this allows for relevant action to support those who are being left behind. 

Locally led and innovative adaptation must be inclusive, including disability inclusive

We must be more intentional and consider the various forms of intersectionalities as we promote community-based adaptation. This involves identifying the different forms of discrimination among the vulnerable groups of people, e.g. women, youth and elderly, and what different forms of discrimination hinder their participation and utilization of climate adaptation knowledge.

Viola Musiimenta, director of programs, ACTADE

It is important to advocate for dignity, fairness, respect and equality, and to be deliberate in providing community-based support. An inclusive approach to climate adaptation requires intentionally listening to all social groups, especially marginalized ones. It also means that inclusive, locally led approaches need to be flexible. 

The CJC program in Zambia has developed a gender equality, disability and social inclusion strategy. It has inclusion requirements for women, young people and persons with disabilities, which underscore how these marginalized groups are not homogeneous — individuals within groups have varying levels of vulnerability, aspirations and interests. The program underwent a robust scoping phase, including direct consultations with persons with disabilities and their families. This has informed the development of the strategy, which seeks to recognize the multiple layers of discrimination and barriers faced by different groups of people.

Contributors: Marie-Eve Landry, program officer, IDRC; Fatema Rajabali, Africa lead, CDKN; Esperanza Karaho, country engagement lead for Kenya, CDKN; Viola Musiimenta, director of programs, ACTADE; Bruce Chooma, disability advisor, CJC Zambia

A version of this article originally appeared on the CDKN website.

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