Science

Women Bear the Brunt of Drought Shocks


CLIMATEWIRE | Women in much of the world are more prone than men to shocks related to drought and desertification because of systemic sexism, according to a U.N. report.

That’s due largely to a lack of land rights and social equity that excludes women from accessing capital, training, technical assistance and the halls of power.

Commissioned by the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, the report finds that women who often engage in agricultural practices are not recognized as farmers because of gender norms. That restricts their access to finance, information and services needed to protect them against climate-related damages like drought.

Without land titles or assets that can serve as collateral, women struggle to secure loans and credit that can help them recover from climate-related damages, the report notes. And without access to money and technology, women are less able to adopt sustainable land management practices that could help prevent additional climate damages or increase crop yields.

“Equitable land governance and land security tenure are critical to enabling land restoration efforts led by women,” the report states.

Women play a vital, though often unrecognized, role in the global food system. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, women account for nearly half of agricultural employment across low-income countries, but much of that work is unpaid and involves excessive burdens.

“Women are major actors in the global efforts to reduce and reverse land degradation. They restore land, they protect land, they cherish, nourish and care for the land, while also caring for others,” Ibrahim Thiaw, executive secretary of the Convention to Combat Desertification, writes in the introduction to the report.

Gender discrimination and norms that don’t recognize their role can increase the burdens women face and the world’s ability to address increasing threats to land-based resources (Greenwire, April 27).

Take early warning systems. The report finds that climate forecasts that would help women prepare for drought are often shared in meetings that women can’t attend.

The disadvantages are not spread evenly across all genders, notes the study. Other aspects of identity such as ethnicity, income, marriage status, disability status and rural or urban location also play an important role, it says.

It also looks at the impacts on women’s health. In all regions, women do more caregiving than men, and drought and land degradation tend to increase the burden of their domestic work by forcing women to walk farther or wait in long lines to collect water, the report says.

“Women left to manage their households may lack the power to make timely farming decisions, or to respond to the effects of drought, land degradation and desertification, or extreme weather events,” the study notes.

In many countries, women are limited in their ability to access or own land, and in more than 100 countries, women are denied the right to inherit property belonging to their husbands due to religious, customary or traditional laws.

But even in countries where women’s legal rights to land are the same as men’s, farm ownership is still overwhelmingly in men’s hands. In Costa Rica, for example, only around 15 percent of farms are owned by women.

The lack of recognition of women farmers means they get less access to the training needed to respond to the effects of climate change on agriculture. At the same time, women are often not represented in international summits where equity issues should be addressed. Only 21 percent of delegates at the last summit for the Convention to Combat Desertification were women, the report said.

The nearly 200 countries that are parties to the Convention to Combat Desertification adopted a gender action plan in 2017 that acknowledges the important role women play in land restoration and sustainable land management practices, and the report offers recommendations for how women’s participation can be improved regionally and globally.

It also highlights examples of women who are leading innovative practices to reform land rights, sustainable agriculture and improving land-use technologies.

A women-led irrigation system in India, for example, helps store rainwater underground until it can be used during dry spells. A project in Benin, a nation in West Africa, uses solar power to help irrigate fields, freeing women from having to collect water by hand from rivers and aquifers.

Reprinted from E&E News with permission from POLITICO, LLC. Copyright 2022. E&E News provides essential news for energy and environment professionals.


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