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Lessons to advance gender equality and social inclusion through climate action


Climate change remains one of the major challenges of our time, with countries in the Global South being the most affected. Emerging research shows that climate change affects diverse groups, including women, in distinct ways.  

In arid and semi-arid areas of Kenya, for instance, severe drought forces pastoralist women and girls to travel longer distances in search of water and firewood. This exposes them to increased risk of sexual and gender-based violence. In addition, the loss of livestock and other pastoral sources of livelihoods, due to frequent droughts, contributes to negative coping mechanisms, such as child marriages in exchange for livestock.  

This reality calls for a variety of actions tailored to the needs and interests of diverse groups of women to achieve just and sustainable development. Research and action for effective climate solutions requires the engagement of diverse members of vulnerable communities. These individuals can be engaged to design the solutions that will impact their lives. Advances are being made to strengthen engagement in climate research and action, but the rate of progress has been slow across the world. 

Engaging women from diverse social groups among pastoralists 

To accelerate this trend, it is necessary to change socio-cultural norms — from the household level to key policymaking bodies at local, national and regional levels. Many social norms hinder vulnerable communities’ effective participation in decision-making and economic empowerment. Changing systems and structures requires the engagement of men and boys as allies and gender-equality champions to counteract resistance to the participation of women and girls in decision-making.  

At the same time, it is important to recognize that women and girls are not homogeneous. They are impacted differently by climate change depending on their age, education and social status, among other societal stratifications. Thus, ensuring that diverse social groups are meaningfully included and represented in decision-making processes helps inform tailored interventions and increases the uptake of research evidence and action.  

IDRC-supported research seeking to strengthen the resilience of pastoral livelihoods in the face of climate change impacts is taking this inclusive approach in Kenya, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Somalia and Uganda. Pastoralism represents a critical component of the regional economy and is a main source of livelihood for millions of people. The research is developing modelling and forecasting tools as well as gender-sensitive actions that communities can take ahead of predicted hazards to support women, men and young people within pastoralist communities.  

This effort is being carried out by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development and is part of the Climate Adaptation and Resilience (CLARE) initiative, a partnership between the United Kingdom’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office and IDRC.  

Research highlights

Lessons emerging from climate action in East Africa to support inclusion and advance gender equality are to:  

  • engage men and boys as allies and gender-equality champions 
  • include women from diverse social groups 
  • tailor climate financing instruments to women and vulnerable groups 
  • support technologies that improve livelihoods without reinforcing gender inequalities 
  • create spaces for the meaningful engagement of vulnerable groups 
  • raise awareness of policies seeking inclusion and gender equality 

Financial instruments geared towards women livestock owners 

Targeted financial instruments can offer good opportunities for women to unlock financing to adapt to climate impacts. Another CLARE project aims to strengthen climate resilience among agropastoral communities in Kenya by creating livestock insurance that is more effective and gender responsive.  

Increasingly frequent droughts are forcing pastoralists to sell surviving livestock, pushing them into poverty. The International Committee for the Development of Peoples is piloting insurance products based on an index, in this case high-resolution earth observation data and community knowledge, rather than loss assessments, which are more costly to carry out. The research will tailor the insurance products to the needs of different groups of women and men, and different types of livestock, with special attention given to women’s preferences for insurance products, the gendered division of labour in households and the types of assets, such as livestock, that they tend to control.  

Technology to empower women in the blue economy  

A group of women stand over dried fish in a fish market.
Nyani Quarmyne / Panos

Empowering women economically through knowledge and skills development enhances women’s resilience to climate change while improving their livelihoods. An example is the promotion of low-carbon and sustainable technologies that build women’s agency and strengthen their capacity without reinforcing gender inequalities. 

IDRC-supported research focusing on the blue economy is investigating opportunities for empowering fisher women in Kenya’s coastal region. The blue economy is based on the sustainable use of marine and ocean resources for economic growth and improved livelihoods. Many women are engaged in mangrove enterprises and seaweed farming, but the earnings from this seasonal activity are low. Women also carry the main responsibility for unpaid care work, which limits the time they can spend on economic activities.  

Led by the African Centre for Technology Studies, the project will study, co-design and deploy climate-smart integrated multi-trophic seaweed and fish farms in two counties, Kwale and Kilifi. Integrated, multi-trophic aquaculture mimics a natural ecosystem by combining the farming of multiple, complementary species from different levels of the food chain, for the benefit of each species and the environment. The project will use these model farms to gain practical insights into harnessing aquaculture to improve women’s livelihoods and resilience and drive inclusive, sustainable growth. 

This effort complements a project funded by Global Affairs Canada that will deploy nature-based solutions in the same two Kenyan counties with a view to promoting sustainable livelihoods for women in the blue economy.  

More ways to advance gender-responsive climate research 

Research to enhance climate adaptation and resilience needs to be locally led and inclusive so that the most-affected people, including women, have a voice in shaping solutions.  

Creating spaces where women and other vulnerable groups can have meaningful engagement is equally important. Discussions that take place at the grassroots level enable a more effective participation of vulnerable groups in climate action. Strengthening the capacities of different social groups to better represent their constituencies in decision-making processes contributes to the design of locally relevant interventions. 

Raising awareness among vulnerable groups regarding policies that support inclusion efforts can also strengthen climate action. Policy coherence at community, national and regional levels, especially regarding land ownership, contributes significantly to increasing gender equity and social inclusion. Recognition of women’s rights to land ownership enables alignment between land-tenure policies and climate-resilience efforts. 

Applying a gender lens to climate-change vulnerability and risk assessments at the community level is crucial. As the world strives to tackle the climate crisis, more research investments are needed to build climate-resilient communities and help vulnerable groups, including women, to withstand the impacts of a changing climate. 

The lessons in this article are drawn from a conversation at a gender café on advancing gender equality and social inclusion in climate-change action. The café was co-convened by Global Affairs Canada and IDRC in September 2023 in Nairobi, Kenya. Researchers, civil society organizations and policymakers reflected on lessons learned over the years to inform ongoing work in their respective organizations.