The climate crisis is unjust for rural women: FAO gender expert

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Lauren Phillips ( second from left-right), Deputy-Director of FAO’s Rural Transformation and Gender Equality Division, speaks with women farmers during a field visit to India. ©SEWA
Lauren Phillips ( second from left-right), Deputy-Director of FAO’s Rural Transformation and Gender Equality Division, speaks with women farmers during a field visit to India. ©SEWA

Interview with Lauren Phillips, Deputy-Director of FAO’s Rural Transformation and Gender Equality Division

Lauren Phillips ( second from left-right), Deputy-Director of FAO’s Rural Transformation and Gender Equality Division, speaks with women farmers during a field visit to India.©SEWA
Lauren Phillips ( second from left-right), Deputy-Director of FAO’s Rural Transformation and Gender Equality Division, speaks with women farmers during a field visit to India.
©SEWA

Rural communities worldwide are grappling with escalating challenges brought on by the climate crisis. As disasters become more frequent and severe, and environmental conditions grow harsher, the burden on these communities intensifies. However, it is women who are bearing the heaviest brunt of these impacts, including significant financial losses.

Until now, no study had ventured to quantify the monetary costs faced by these women due to heat stress, floods, or droughts. The newly released FAO report, The Unjust Climate: Measuring the impacts of climate change on the rural poor, women and youth, sheds light on how climate change disproportionately affects the rural poor, older people and women in low- and middle-income countries. It reveals billions of dollars in losses among female-headed farming households, further widening the income gap between men and women.

To delve deeper into the report’s findings regarding gender dynamics and the challenges faced by rural women amidst a changing climate, the FAO Newsroom spoke with Lauren Phillips, the Deputy Director of FAO’s Rural Transformation and Gender Equality Division.

What are the main findings of the FAO report “The Unjust Climate” regarding women?

Gender inequality plays a significant role in determining women’s adaptive capacity to climate change. Every year, women farmers and female-headed households in low- and middle-income households are suffering from very large losses due to climatic shocks such as heat stress or flooding, surpassing those experienced by male-headed households. This report quantifies some of these losses.

So, for example, from heat stress, female-headed households lose 8 percent more of their income every year than male-headed households. And that translates to $37 billion a year. It’s a lot of money. Flooding, too, has an impact on decreasing female-headed household income by 3 percent, which is $16 billion a year compared to male-headed households.

We are talking about situations in which households are already losing a lot from climate change. But for those that are run by women or on plots that are managed by women, the losses are much greater.

The report also finds that if climate change increases by another one degree Celsius, female-headed households could lose 34 percent of their income compared to male-headed households. It’s an absolutely huge loss for families that are already suffering from poverty and having trouble having adequate and healthy amounts of food for their families every day.

How was FAO able to calculate these numbers?

The report uses data from 24 low and middle-income countries across five regions and spans 70 years of daily climate data, matched with the incomes of more than 100,000 households. That means we had data for almost a billion people. What we were able to do was estimate how much greater the losses were for families that were headed by women.

For instance, in the event of a drought, how does the situation of a female farmer differ from that of a male farmer?
For instance, in the event of a drought, how does the situation of a female farmer differ from that of a male farmer?

For example, a woman may not have irrigation on her farm. The report we published last year,  The status of women in agrifood systems, showed that in countries where there is a higher use of irrigation for farming, women are much less likely to have access to it.

So, you can imagine a female farmer without water on her land, and perhaps she also didn’t receive new seeds, which could have helped prevent losses from drought. Consequently, she’s working harder and longer, putting in an extra hour of work a day compared to a male farmer, trying to adapt to climate change. However, without access to such assets and technologies, she may struggle to keep up with the changing climate.

Climate change is also increasing the number of hours women are required to work, and since women already have a higher burden of care in almost all countries worldwide, this exacerbates the situation. On average, women spend 4 hours a day on unpaid domestic and care work, while men spend less than two. This means that climate change can add to the burden of tasks such as gathering water or wood, or any other care duties necessary to keep a household or farming operation running.

What are the root causes behind these disparities?

In last year’s report, we have analyzed a lot of gender inequalities that are still very persistent. There are gaps in how much money women earn for their work in agriculture and agrifood systems, as well as gaps in the productivity of their land plots, the amount of land they have access to, their access to mobile technologies, and their financial access.

But on top of all of this, there are also persistent discriminatory social norms that women and girls face in agrifood systems, which may constrain how much they can work outside the home or how far they can travel to do their work. So, when you combine these material gaps and inequalities with discriminatory social norms, it becomes very hard for women to achieve the same level of outcomes in agrifood systems as men.

What can be done to change this?

We have a lot of tools at our disposal, and there are a number of successful policy measures. For instance, increasing women’s registration and access to land has many benefits on agricultural productivity. It can reduce gender-based violence within households and improve family nutrition. Using an approach that addresses both asset gaps and norms, known as gender transformative approaches, can positively impact how families coordinate work and overall empowerment. Improved empowerment resulting from these approaches can enhance household’s income and resilience.

In fact, FAO has estimated– that closing labor and productivity gaps between women and men could significantly impact GDP, increasing it by 1 percent globally and reducing food insecurity for 45 million people. These achievements are possible because we know the successful approaches to empower women in agrifood systems.

The report also found that projects and policies focusing on empowerment can majorly improve resilience to climatic and other shocks. It was estimated that empowering projects could lead to an additional 235 million families having higher resilience to such shocks. Therefore, addressing these gaps and promoting empowerment are crucial for helping families and women become more resilient to climate change.

What is FAO doing to support rural women in a changing climate?
What is FAO doing to support rural women in a changing climate?

FAO is working in coordination with other UN agencies on the ground in various countries to implement projects that provide better training and capacity building for women. These projects aim to help women participate more in agrifood systems and value chains, as well as gain access to technologies that can address the gaps previously mentioned. Excellent evidence from countries like Ecuador shows how gender-transformative approaches can be used by governments. Additionally, there are outstanding examples worldwide of how capacity building, training women, farmer business schools, and value chain projects can provide significant support.

In small island developing countries in the Pacific, such as Palau, FAO has been working to strengthen women’s resilience to climate change by focusing on the tourism value chain and other agrifood system work. These countries are highly vulnerable to climate change, and women constitute a significant part of the workforce. Therefore, ensuring that they have the skills, capacities, assets, and resources to prepare for the changing climate is of utmost importance.

Is there enough finance going towards supporting rural women in a changing climate?

Only 6 percent of bilateral funds focused on agrifood systems are dedicated to making an impact on gender equality and women’s empowerment. Clearly, this is not enough. Additionally, in the Unjust Climate report, we examined policies from various countries and found that only 6 percent of national climate policies, known as Nationally Determined Contributions, even mention women in a significant manner.

Hence, there’s a substantial opportunity to increase attention to gender equality within climate and agricultural policies, thereby attracting more investment to areas where further action is necessary. We consistently collaborate with diverse partners to expand equality. This entails fostering more partnerships and investments, specifically targeting the reduction of gender gaps in agrifood systems and promoting women’s empowerment within them. We now have sufficient evidence of effective approaches to address these issues.

We should really be looking at the ways that we can combine financing to address multiple challenges. Gender equality should be part of measures to address climate change. We can have a greater impact if we work on both of those objectives at the same time.

Source:FAO

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