Rural Women Face the Double Impact of Gender Inequality and Climate Change

Gender equality and climate change issues are inextricably linked, particularly for farming communities in the Global South. Two-thirds of the population in sub-Saharan Africa is engaged in agriculture, with the vast majority working on family farms where women provide 40-60% of the labour as well as the lion’s share of unpaid care and domestic work. Women and girls are also often assigned responsibility for managing water and biomass for use in the home; 80% of households without piped water depend upon their labour for water collection. Because of these roles and their reliance on natural resources, rural women are at the forefront of climate change impact.  

Yet, when raising gender issues as they relate to climate change, a common reaction can be, “Both women and men are equally at risk. Hurricanes and droughts don’t discriminate over whose livelihoods they destroy. So, what does gender have to do with it?” 

Climate change will depress agricultural yields in most countries in 2050, given current agricultural practices and crop varieties
Sources: Müller and others 2009; World Bank 2008c.

Climate change does not affect us all equally. For example, projected changes in agricultural yields due to climate change show that an estimated 75-80% of losses will be borne by the Global South until the year 2050 – the countries that contribute the least to global greenhouse gas emissions. Those that are already heavily dependent on agricultural and natural resources for their livelihoods and who have limited capacity to respond to natural hazards are likely to continue to experience vulnerability. As expressed in a widely-held sentiment throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, “we may be in the same storm, but we are not all in the same boat”.  

The impacts of climate change are not only influenced by geographic or economic disparities, but also by social and cultural inequalities. From nearly three decades of gender and climate change research, it was found that women and girls tend to be affected differently, and more harshly by environmental destruction. This is because they already face systemic disadvantages in accessing the resources, rights and power that enable resilience, and because climate shocks tend to amplify existing inequalities. 

And yet, women – particularly rural women – have a critical role to play in climate action. They possess important local knowledge and capacities that can influence more sustainable resource management within their homes and communities. Despite this potential, women are most often sidelined from climate change-related decision-making spaces and leadership opportunities.

For MEDA, addressing the intersection between gender and climate change is essential if we want to make real, sustainable impact for our women and men clients in rural communities around the world. This is why MEDA’s Gender Equality and Social Inclusion (GESI) Technical Team works closely with other Technical Teams (Environment and Climate Change; Market Systems; Inclusive Financial Services; and Impact Investment) to address not only the symptoms, but the root causes of economic, social and environmental challenges. Our goal is to support women’s empowerment while working to change the underlying systems that produce and reproduce the inequalities that keep them in poverty and vulnerability. For example:  

  • On the Jordan Valley Links project, MEDA supported women entrepreneurs in piloting a green composting enterprise, which helps manage waste, improves agricultural practices and creates a potential new source of income.  
  • In Bauchi State, Nigeria, MEDA’s WAY project is supporting women sales agents with selling environmentally friendly technologies that reduce repetitive labour for women agri-processors and addressing harmful gendered social norms within households and communities. Devices like the Sun King Boom, a multifunctional solar powered lamp and radio, increase women’s access to information, resources and clean energy.  

On this International Day of Rural Women, MEDA continues to leverage its vast technical expertise toward promoting more inclusive and adaptive agri-food market systems while strengthening the livelihoods and climate resilience of farmers, particularly women farmers, in the Global South. 

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email
  • Leanne Baumung is a Technical Specialist in MEDA’s Strategy & Impact Department, focusing on gender equality and social inclusion (GESI). She provides technical expertise and advice across a number of MEDA projects and corporate initiatives and contributes to the GESI Technical Team’s thought leadership activities.

  • Dennis Tessier is the Technical Director, Environment and Climate Change (ECC) at MEDA. In this role Dennis has organization-wide responsibility to build capacity, develop strategic approaches, document best practices, mentor staff and oversee the provision of technical support to all of MEDA’s programming to ensure ECC is championed broadly.