Climate Risks for Women in Agri-Food Systems: A Hotspot Map Exposes Inequalities

The ground beneath our feet is shifting, not just metaphorically, but literally, due to climate change. This shift is having a devastating impact on global food systems, and women, who play a crucial role in agriculture around the world, are bearing the brunt of the burden.

A recent study by an international team of researchers has shed light on this critical issue. They developed a first-of-its-kind hotspot map that identifies areas where climate hazards, women’s exposure to these hazards in agri-food systems, and their underlying vulnerability due to gender inequalities converge. This map paints a stark picture, revealing that women in Africa and Asia face the highest climate risks.

Key Findings of the Hotspot Map

The hotspot map, ranking 87 countries based on climate threats faced by women in agriculture, identifies regions where a dangerous confluence of factors creates a situation of extreme vulnerability. Here are some key takeaways:

  • High-Risk Regions:¬†Central, East, and Southern Africa, along with West and South Asia, emerged as hotspots where significant climate hazards intersect with the high exposure of women in agri-food systems and their heightened vulnerability due to gender inequalities.
  • India’s Ranking: India occupies a concerning position at number 12 on the risk index, highlighting the significant challenges faced by women working in its agricultural sector.
  • Other Vulnerable Nations:¬†Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nepal also feature prominently in the rankings, underscoring the severity of the situation across Asia.

These findings underscore the need for immediate and targeted action to address the specific needs of women in these high-risk regions.

Why Are Women More Vulnerable?

Women play a critical role in the global agri-food system. They are often responsible for a significant portion of agricultural labour, particularly in food production, processing, and marketing. However, systemic gender inequalities leave them more susceptible to the impacts of climate change. Here’s why:

  • Limited Land Ownership: In many regions, women have limited or insecure land rights. This makes it difficult for them to access resources and credit to adapt to changing weather patterns or invest in new technologies.
  • Lack of Access to Information and Technology: Women often have less access to information on climate-resilient agricultural practices, early warning systems for extreme weather events, and new technologies that can help them cope with a changing environment.
  • Unequal Social Status: Gender norms and social structures often limit women’s participation in decision-making processes at the community level. This means their voices are less likely to be heard when it comes to planning for climate adaptation strategies.
  • Increased Burden of Unpaid Care Work: Climate change can lead to water scarcity and food insecurity, placing an additional burden on women who are responsible for collecting water and caring for their families.

Consequences of Climate Change for Women in Agriculture

The consequences of climate change for women in agriculture are far-reaching and multifaceted. Here are some of the key challenges they face:

  • Reduced Food Security: Droughts, floods, and erratic weather patterns disrupt agricultural production, leading to food shortages and malnutrition, particularly among women and children.
  • Loss of Livelihoods: Climate change can devastate crops and livestock, leading to income losses and pushing families into poverty. This is particularly detrimental for women who are often the primary source of income for their households.
  • Increased Water Scarcity: Climate change can lead to water scarcity, making it more difficult for women to access water for both household needs and agricultural production.
  • Health Risks: Women are more vulnerable to heat stress, waterborne diseases, and other health risks associated with climate change due to their increased workload and limited access to healthcare.

The Way Forward: Empowering Women for Climate Resilience

The hotspot map serves as a crucial wake-up call. It highlights the urgent need to empower women in agri-food systems to cope with the challenges of climate change. Here are some potential solutions:

  • Invest in Gender-Transformative Climate Action: Policies and investments need to be designed with a gender lens, ensuring women’s equitable access to resources, information, and decision-making processes.
  • Bridge the Gender Gap in Land Ownership: Secure land rights for women is essential for their economic empowerment and long-term climate resilience.
  • Promote Women’s Leadership in Climate Adaptation: Women’s knowledge and experience are crucial for developing effective climate adaptation strategies. They need to be included in leadership positions and decision-making processes.
  • Invest in Climate-Smart Agriculture: Supporting women farmers in adopting climate-smart agricultural practices, such as drought-resistant crops and water-saving irrigation techniques, can help them adapt to a changing climate.
  • Provide Access to Climate Information and Technology: Equipping women farmers with access to weather forecasts, early warning systems, and new technologies can empower them to make informed decisions

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