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Getting their input is crucial to getting climate adaptation right, researchers say
What’s one way you can tell more frequent droughts and floods are hitting families hard in Kenya’s western Nyando district? Doors are closed at mealtimes.
“With less food, nobody is willing to share,” said Mary Nyasimi, who works in East Africa to ensure information on adapting crops to climate change gets to women as well as men.
What she called the new "stinginess" is affecting social connections and safety nets in the communities – one impact of crop and livestock losses that researchers might not have predicted.
Getting an accurate picture of how climate change is affecting local people – and what might be done about it – requires getting out into communities and, crucially, getting the input of women, who are often overlooked in efforts to deal with climate change, researchers said this week at a science conference in Paris.
In arid Ladakh, in India’s northern Jammu and Kashmir state, for instance, women – who fetch water and irrigate fields – noticed changes in temperature in the region, and the effects that was having on water, more than men, said Virginie Le Masson, a gender specialist with Britain’s Overseas Development Institute and the Climate and Development Knowledge Network.
She also found that women, when interviewed apart from their husbands and by women researchers, sometimes gave completely different information than their husbands to questions about who was carrying out various tasks in the household.
“When you interview only the head of the household you might miss out information,” Le Masson warned. “It’s crucial to have this gender lens in mind when conducting research at ground level.”
In Tanzania, a study of climate change adaptation in the rural eastern Morogoro region found that married women farmers are more likely to have access to better land or to irrigate their family’s fields.
But it was divorcees and widows, freed from the need to seek a husband’s permission, who set up more businesses that gave them job opportunities beyond farming – one important way of building climate change resilience, said researcher Katrien Van Aelst, a student at the University of Antwerp.
“Climate change adaptation usually doesn’t take any of this into account,” she said.
Nyasimi, of the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), said that in Kenya’s Nyando district, hit by both more frequent droughts and floods, she found the most rapid uptake of climate-resilient farming was among women whose husbands were away and not making day-to-day decisions.
Adoption of things like drought-resistant crops was faster in those homes than in households run by men, or even those run by women whose husbands, though away, were still making the family decisions, she said.
Women in households where men didn’t have much influence also had more access to climate information from radio programmes, Nyasimi found.
But it was men in Nyando who really noticed changes in temperatures over time – not because they were more perceptive but because men remain in the villages they grow up in, while women move to new areas when they marry.
That means women, often relative newcomers to a village, do not report noticing big changes in the climate when asked about them, Nyasimi said.
“Building resilience requires awareness of cultural and social norms,” she emphasised.
One adaptation to climate change that Nyasimi said she regularly sees is women moving from farming as their main job to farming in the morning and then doing other work in the afternoon – such as making baskets or rope – to ensure they have enough money to maintain their families.
But that added workload for women is taking its toll, she said.
“In 10 years, you will add depression to the effects of climate change,” she predicted.
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