Women's empowerment and climate resilient agriculture

UN Women

There is a growing recognition of the disproportionate impact that climate change will have on women, as well as, conversely, of the significant social, economic, and climate resilient benefits that gender equality and women's empowerment can bring. In agriculture, climate change will exacerbate the existing barriers faced by women farmers. Women comprise 43 per cent of the agricultural workforce, and play a critical role in supporting household and community food security. However, women farmers have less access than men to secure land tenure, agricultural inputs, technologies, financing, and information. An international comparison of agricultural census data by the Food and Agriculture Organisation shows that less than 20 per cent of landholders worldwide are women. Similarly, across 97 countries, women farmers receive only 5 per cent of agricultural extension services, only 15 per cent of the world's extension services are women, and only 10 per cent of total aid for agriculture, forestry and fisheries goes to women. Perhaps the greatest stumbling block for women farmers to pursue climate-resilient agriculture is the gender gap in access to long-term affordable financing. Only 22 per cent of women in low-income countries hold bank accounts in rural areas, and commercial banks tend to work only with large farmers who are already well positioned in value chains.

The pervasive gaps that women face in agriculture are due to structural barriers that women farmers face in all parts of the world. These include discriminatory statutory and customary laws; harmful social norms; and the disproportionate burden of domestic and care work. For example, of the 161 countries examined in OECD's 2014 Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI), women and men have equal rights to land ownership, use and control in only 37 of the assessed countries. Even when their land rights are secured, their plots tend to be insufficient in size and quality to qualify as collateral for a bank loan or credit. The lack of appropriate financial products and low financial literacy further constrain women's ability to access financing.

Most agricultural policies and investments still fail to consider discrimination against women in agriculture, and how gender-specific barriers are relevant to the proposed interventions. It is often assumed that interventions to facilitate access to finance, technology or markets will have the same impacts on men and women; however, evidence indicates that this is not the case.

Yet, gender-responsive investments and interventions in agriculture that remove structural barriers represent a huge opportunity for women's empowerment, economic development and societal resilience to climate change. It has been estimated that such interventions could increase agricultural outputs by up to 20 per cent in Africa.

At the same time, a changing climate means that the window of opportunity to close these gender-based differences in agriculture is closing. Climate change will require greater upfront capital for investments in climate resilient infrastructure, assets, and the adoption of new farming practices. It will also require access to critical information to anticipate variations in temperature and precipitation, choose appropriate seeds and make informed decisions about when and what to plant. Women's full and equal participation and leadership and access to opportunities is more urgent than ever in this changing environment.

UN Women's experience in this field has shown that strengthening climate resilience requires integrated actions from a coalition of partners in the following four priority areas: increasing women's land tenure security by eliminating discriminatory legal, social and customary norms; improving women's productivity by ensuring equal access to information, technologies, and inputs and reducing their unpaid care work; removing financing barriers and eliminating discriminatory lending practices of public and private financial institutions to enable women farmers to invest in climate-resilient agriculture; and increasing access of women farmers to higher-added value markets.

Concerted efforts are therefore needed to ensure that women farmers everywhere can contribute their expertise and knowledge to solving the challenges in agriculture of a changing climate.