Study examines women’s ability to adapt effectively to climate change

Published by  News Archive

On 25th Nov 2019

New research led by the University of East Anglia (UEA) suggests that male migration and poor working conditions for women combine with institutional failure or poverty to hamper women’s ability to adapt to climate variability and change in Asia and Africa.

There is growing concern about sustainable and equitable adaptation in climate change hotspots - locations where climatic shifts, social structures, and livelihood sensitivity converge to exacerbate vulnerability.

Examining gender within these debates highlights how demographic, socio-economic and agro-ecological circumstances combine in complex ways to impact the experiences and outcomes of climate change in specific contexts.

Entrenched social structures create power relations that shape women’s and men’s experiences of vulnerability through their access to resources, divisions of work, and cultural norms around mobility and decision-making, all of which determine their ability to adapt.

Drawing on data from 25 case studies across hotspots in Asia (India, Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Tajikistan) and Africa (Kenya, Ghana, Namibia, Mali, Ethiopia, Senegal), the study shows how and in what ways women’s agency, or ability to make meaningful choices and strategic decisions, contributes to adaptation responses.

The study, published today in the journal Nature Climate Change, involved researchers from the UK, Nepal, India, Pakistan and South Africa. They argue that environmental stress weakens women’s agency even when household structures and social norms are supportive, or legal entitlements available. This leads to household strategies that place increasing responsibilities and burdens on women, especially those who are young, less educated, and belonging to lower classes, or marginal castes and ethnicities.

While male migration for work does contribute to enhanced incomes, the degree of such support is both uncertain and irregular. Confronted with issues of everyday survival, in the absence of supportive infrastructure and services, women often work harder, in poorer conditions, and for lower wages, across the hotspots studied, with negative wellbeing outcomes, seen particularly in the neglect of their health and nutrition.

Lead author Prof Nitya Rao, of UEA’s School of International Development, said: “In a sense, women do have voice and agency, as they are actively engaging in both production and reproduction, yet this is not contributing to strengthening longer-term adaptive capacities, or indeed their wellbeing.

“Our analysis suggests that some common conditions such as male migration and women’s poor working conditions combine with either institutional failure, or poverty, to constrain women’s ability to make choices and decisions. However these barriers, if addressed in creative ways, could potentially strengthen adaptive capacities, and enable more effective adaptation.”

The findings have implications for the effective implementation of multilateral agreements such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, through its Gender Action Plan, and commitments to gender-responsive adaptation as outlined in the Paris Agreement, along with the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction and the Sustainable Development Goals.
These agreements require insights into what builds the adaptive capacity of women and men in specific contexts in order to support sustainable, equitable, and effective adaptation.

The authors suggest that, firstly, effective social protection, such as the universal public distribution system for cereals in India, or pensions and social grants in Namibia, can contribute to relieving immediate pressures on survival, creating some room for manouvre.

Secondly, rather than creating competition among individuals and households, such universal benefits can support processes that strengthen collective action at the community level. This however cannot always be done on the ‘cheap’; investments are needed to enable better and more sustainable management of resources. Women’s Self Help Groups are often presented as solutions, yet they are confronted by the lack of resources, skills and capacity to help their members effectively meet the challenges they confront.

While not discussed in depth in this paper, the authors say competitive markets are not working to strengthen women’s agency, rather they end up undervaluing and appropriating the labour of poor women, but equally men in the case of migration.

“There appears to be a clear case for regulating labour markets to ensure decent work, whether for women or migrant men, but this is proving difficult in a globalised context,” said Prof Rao.

The study uses case studies from three distinct regions: 14 in semi-arid regions, six in mountains and glacier fed river basins and five in deltas. Predominant livelihoods are agriculture, livestock pastoralism, and fishing, supplemented by wage labour, petty trade or business, and income from remittances.

These areas face a range of environmental risks including droughts, floods, rainfall variability, land erosion and landslides, heatwaves, coastal erosion and cyclones.

A qualitative comparative analysis of women’s agency and adaptive capacity in climate change hotspots in Asia and Africa’, Nitya Rao, Arabinda Mishra, Anjal Prakash, Chandni Singh, Ayesha Qaisrani, Prathigna Poonacha, Katharine Vincent and Claire Bedelian, is published in Nature Climate Change on November 25, 2019.

Latest News

  News
A female protestor displays the
19 May 2022

USA slumbers, Europe leads in electoral integrity

The world’s leading democracy is falling behind on electoral integrity, according to new findings from the University of East Anglia (UEA) and the Royal Military...

Read more >
  News
Cranberries held in two hands.
19 May 2022

How cranberries could improve memory and ward off dementia

Adding cranberries to your diet could help improve memory and brain function, and lower ‘bad’ cholesterol – according to new research from the University of East...

Read more >
  News
Surgeons perform heart surgery in an operating theatre.
18 May 2022

Timing of heart surgery crucial, research shows

Valve replacement heart surgery should be performed earlier than conventionally thought for people with aortic stenosis – according to new research from the...

Read more >
  News
16 May 2022

From testing for plastics in teabags to a Q&A with Countrywise’s Liz Bonnin: UEA’s Green Film Festival is back

Following a two-year pandemic hiatus, the Green Film Festival at the University of East Anglia (UEA) is back from Thursday 19 May - Saturday 21 May, offering...

Read more >
Are you searching for something?
  News
16 May 2022

From testing for plastics in teabags to a Q&A with Countrywise’s Liz Bonnin: UEA’s Green Film Festival is back

Following a two-year pandemic hiatus, the Green Film Festival at the University of East Anglia (UEA) is back from Thursday 19 May - Saturday 21 May, offering...

Read more >
  News
A pink pigeon perches on a branch.
13 May 2022

Not all is rosy for the pink pigeon, study finds

The authors of a major study on the once critically endangered pink pigeon say boosting the species’ numbers is not enough to save it from extinction in the future.

Read more >
  News
World of lights with a really bright light shining from Norwich
12 May 2022

UEA’s research confirmed as ‘world-leading’ by national assessment

The global significance and real-world impact of the University of East Anglia’s (UEA’s) research has been confirmed with the Research Excellence Framework 2021...

Read more >
  News
11 May 2022

Innovation & Impact Awards 2022 winners

From saving the world’s animals through socks, improving animal nutrition to sequencing COVID-19 genomes and developing a diagnostic device for dizziness, there...

Read more >
  News
Microplastics on a finger
10 May 2022

How microplastics in the air are polluting the most remote places on earth

Microplastics are being transported to some of the most remote places on earth by the wind, according to new research involving the University of East Anglia.

Read more >
  News
A woman smells a tangerine.
06 May 2022

Research priorities for smell disorders revealed

From stem cell therapy to regenerating smell receptors, experts at the University of East Anglia have helped develop a list of research priorities for people...

Read more >
  News
Secondary School children doing Physics in Design and Technology lesson
06 May 2022

New teaching programme launched to get engineers into teaching Physics

The University of East Anglia (UEA) has been selected by the Department for Education (DfE) to run a new course aimed at getting people from an engineering or...

Read more >