How climate changes gender roles

While conducting climate change research in Kenya, Professor Nitya Rao sadi her team found that in order to survive "men and women were switching roles" due to the changing climates. Picture: iStock
While conducting climate change research in Kenya, Professor Nitya Rao sadi her team found that in order to survive "men and women were switching roles" due to the changing climates. Picture: iStock

Climate change is not only changing global temperatures, but in parts of east Africa and Asia, it is changing relationships and gender roles too.

As families navigate how to adapt and survive the effects of climate change, household dynamics and gender roles in semi-arid regions are also shifting.

Professor of gender and development at the University of East Anglia, Nitya Rao presented research conducted by the Adaptation at Scale and Semi-Arid Regions project, showing how water scarcity and frequent droughts forced pastoral communities to find new ways to survive.

Rao said in her presentation at the fifth international climate change Adaptation Futures conference last week: “We sought to answer the question: ‘How do changing household structures and relationships in urban, rural and peri-urban areas of semiarid regions shape the ability of men and women to respond to risks and adapt to climate change?’

“When we started working in east Africa [Kenya] in 2015/16, the region had been hit with severe drought that also led to violent conflicts. The severe drought led to households wanting to get out of pastorialism and this shaped the risk management that households adopted because they changed their agricultural practices,” she said.

In Kenya’s Isiolo county, they found that while some men continued with pastoralism and livestock trade, as well as labouring tasks and transportation, declining income and wellbeing forced women to diversify into small-scale trading of water, firewood and food.

Women also rented small shops, ran restaurants, engaged in some agriculture and provision of domestic cleaning and laundry services.

“It was really a lesson for us to take account of gender relationship changes. In many instances, men and women were switching roles,” she said.

In Tamil Nadu, India, which experienced a depleting ground water supply, new relationship norms have also begun to take hold.

“We found men were also taking part in domestic water collection, a role normally gendered towards women. By and large, we noted a lot of male out-migration as they sought work opportunities in neighbouring cities. But in terms of the health and wellbeing of women they had left behind, women took a knock because they became overworked, having to take on double the workload of domestic work and agricultural work,” she said.

Rao said that in Kenya, multigenerational households of women were being set up by women left behind by the migration of men. The women shared in labour and supported of each other. Households were not homogenous entities anymore.

Whereas in Namibia, which had also been ravaged by persistent drought, families had adapted by fostering stronger relations with their immediate neighbours, to survive, share resources and support.

Ayesha Qaisrani, a research associate at Pathways to Resilience in Semi-Arid Economies, presented similar research on the regions, adding that in areas such as drought-stricken Mali, women had become central to ensuring food security.

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