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Making Sense of Gender, Climate Change and Agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa

Full title: Making Sense of Gender, Climate Change and Agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa: Creating Gender-Responsive Climate Adaptation Policy

Christine Okali and Lars Otto Naess
May 2013

Attention to gender and climate change has increased steadily over the last decade. Much of the emerging policy-focused literature resembles to a considerable degree the gender and environment literature from the 1990s, with the nature of women’s work being used to justify placing women at the centre of climate change policy. However, in contrast with the portrayal of women in earlier literature as knowledgeable guardians of the environment, the women at the centre of gender and climate change policy are typically portrayed as vulnerable, weak, poor, and socially isolated. Arguably, this is a reflection of the politics of gender rather than the reality of the men and women who regularly experience and deal with changes of various kinds.

We argue for a more realistic and nuanced framing of gender that is built on an acknowledgement of social complexity, and an understanding of social, including gender relations, in specific local settings. Such a framing would provide a more valuable starting point for understanding the way in which both women and men, together and separately in their different, and changing roles, shape the outcomes of external interventions. This shift does not mean that targeting vulnerable women to meet short term needs is not valuable. Rather, the intention is principally, to minimise the risks of policy failure resulting from the adoption of often erroneous but popular assumptions about the different roles that women and men play, and must continue to play, to achieve food security in the face of climate change.