The climate and gender game
Janot Mendler de Suarez is a Visiting Research Fellow with the Games for a New Climate task force at the Boston University Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future, USA. Janot is collaborating with the Red Cross / Red Crescent Climate Centre, which received CDKN support to develop ‘serious games’ to raise awareness of climate adaptation strategies. Here, Janot introduces a special ‘climate and gender game’ that builds on this work.
While there is growing consensus as to the differential impacts of climate change on the most vulnerable, the fact that women and girls are differently affected remains an over-looked issue that may hold the key to resilience in communities around the world.
The Climate Centre has been piloting the use of games to more effectively communicate climate science both within the humanitarian sector and among an expanding group of innovative partnerships for climate risk management. The Climate Centre’s Pablo Suarez and I have been testing the use of experiential learning games to build collective intelligence, and enhance the uptake of climate science, in stakeholder-driven consultative processes around issues of climate compatible development.
Pablo and I are a husband and wife game-design duo. We were invited to invent a game for PopTech’s February 2012 Climate Resilience Lab in Nairobi, organised with support from the Nike and Rockefeller foundations to explore the role of women and girls in community-based adaptive development strategies.
With support from PopTech and the Red Cross Climate Centre, I worked with the Kenya Red Cross (KRC) to design a game that staff and volunters could use to open conversations about gender implications of climate change with rural farming communities. Existing gender asymmetries include land ownership (over 90% of the land belongs to men), and unequal access to credit or fertiliser. Such unequal access means that women often derive less benefit from farm work than their male counterparts.
In discussion with Red Cross leadership and staff from drought-stricken districts, we also learned that when crops fail and no savings are available, farming families must put their last assets, their children, to work. This can have very dire consequences: consequences that are markedly different for girls, compared to boys.
Kenya is experiencing more extreme flooding as well as drought, sometimes in the same district or at the same time in different parts of the country. The game was developed to be piloted with a farmers’ co-operative in the village of Matuu, where KRC has introduced drought-resistant cassava as an alternative to maize; the game also simulates intermittent flood risk.
How to play the gender and climate game
In the game, if a player wants to protect against drought, s/he must invest in planting cassava; if more concerned about flood washing out their crops, players can choose to invest in planting flood-tolerant rice. If they prefer, instead, to take their chances and hope for good rains, players can plant maize at no cost (“from saved seed”) – so the message is that correctly choosing to be prepared can guarantee you a crop even if disaster strikes, but it requires taking the risk of investment. Each round of the game is a planting season, and the roll of a die determines the rains: 1 is too little rain – drought (if you didn’t plant cassava you’re in trouble!), a 6 is too much rain – flood (anyone who didn’t plant rice will pay dearly to feed their family this round), and any roll from 2-5 is good rains, all crops yield a harvest.
After a few rounds, once players have begun to figure out the probabilities and weight their risk vs. investment based on the historical probability of rainfall represented by the dice, climate change is introduced. A truncated cone replaces the die, and it is difficult to interpret the probability of how it will land. It may land on the small base to indicate drought, or on the large base for floods, or roll on its side for good rains. This represents quite well the uncertainty of rainfall under current (changing) conditions. After a couple of rounds, when players are comfortable with the mechanics of the game, to even better represent reality, a new twist is introduced: gender inequality.
The designers infused this planting decisions game with the ‘broken’ element of gender differences by randomly assigning fictional gender roles. Those given a brightly colored bracelet to wear play as ‘men’, all those with no bracelet play ‘women’ and find themselves starting the game with fewer beans – the currency of the game. As the game plays out, women reap a smaller harvest than the fictional men.
After a couple of rounds, the national issue of teenage pregnancy is introduced via random distribution of a handful of necklaces. Players of either sex wearing a necklace discover they “have just become a grandparent”. Now if planting decisions do not match the roll of the rains, players with a grandchild have to pay one additional bean to feed their family that round. After prizes are distributed, to the one player with the most beans and to the co-op team which lost the fewest farmers to the city by the end of the game, players are encouraged to share their feelings about the game. They talk about how they felt about the gender roles, if the game revealed anything surprising or concerning, and what they see as the root causes and possible paths to solving their specific, climate-related problems.
The Kenya Red Cross now plans to train facilitators to use this game in rural communities. The game should deepen understanding within affected communities about climate risk strategies to cope with the changing weather patterns affecting agriculture. With luck, it will help open deep discussion about the differential implications of climate change for women and girls, compared to men and boys, and what these additional pressures mean for their life choices.
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