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11 Sep 2017 | Gender in Koshi

Why China should Include a Gender Perspective in its Climate Change Policies

Women are playing a leading role in coping with and adapting to climate change in the mountainous rural areas of China’s Yunnan Province, where disruptions in weather patterns and increasingly extreme events are expected to impact agricultural livelihoods. But while women are assuming more responsibility than men, their voices are mostly excluded from the policy-making processes that affect their daily lives.

A study on adaptation to water-related hazards and climate change conducted in Yunnan by researchers from the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), and the Yunnan Academy of Social Sciences demonstrates the importance of gender inclusion in responses to climate change in the region. It also warns that lack of a gender perspective in Chinese policy-making could undermine current climate adaptation efforts. The study was part of an international research project under the Himalayan Climate Change Adaptation Programme (HICAP).

“Women in the region have important responsibilities as managers of natural and household resources and are therefore well positioned to contribute to adaptation strategies. But they are more vulnerable than men to climate change as they face more social, economic, and political barriers limiting their adaptive capacity,” says Su Yufang, ICRAF China’s Deputy Director and the lead author of the study. “HICAP is generating knowledge of climate change impacts on natural resources, ecosystem services, and the communities that depend on them, contributing to policy and practice for enhanced adaptation.”

Ana Maria Paez-Valencia & Manon Koningstein

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Access to market is key for rural women. Here, Miao women sell vegetables and non-timber forest products (NTFP) in a local market in Baoshan, Yunnan (Photo: ICRAF)

In Haitang, off-farm wage labour outside the community has, for some years, been an important income-generating strategy. As the drought continued, increasing numbers of men as well as some younger women migrated and the remaining women assumed more responsibility for agricultural production. However, traditional social norms continue to limit women’s decision-making power in household farming enterprises and in community resource management.

Water management and gender

One of the important findings from the study was that men and women use strikingly different approaches when faced with water shortages and their consequences on agriculture. About half of the men in the village reported that they simply wait for the rain. Only less than a fifth reported that they transport water to their crops. The preferences for women, however, were reversed, with just under half reporting that they transported water to their crops, and less than one fifth claiming they simply wait for the rain. In addition, the women actively pursue more immediate responses to drought than men by, for example, decreasing the cultivated area or adjusting the timing of planting. And as the drought continued, men and women showed further differences, with women being more likely to consider shifting into forestry and animal husbandry after successive low yields.

Another interesting finding relates to the definition of “collecting water”. Men’s understanding of gathering water is related to looking for new sources of water when old sources dry up, which is their main responsibility. But the actual carrying and ferrying of water is primarily the responsibility of women. While the men believe they are responsible for coping with water shortage in the household, it is actually the women’s daily workload that is significantly increased.

At the community level, the study observed that although technically possible, no woman has ever been appointed as water manager. Water managers are selected by respective village committees and approved by a meeting of the villagers’ representatives. They are responsible for water tank and pipe maintenance and for domestic water allocation at the village level. The villagers—both men and women—said that this was due to the skills and physical strength needed to repair pipes and water infrastructure, as well as the perception that the role fell outside women’s traditional domestic responsibilities. However, as a result of the drought, as water scarcity continues and conflicts over water allocation become more frequent, women have become active in monitoring water allocation. Both men and women agree that increasingly, women are working with designated water managers to reduce the risk of fights among the men. Women are seen as able to solve these conflicts and ensure equal distribution through negotiation rather than physical fighting.

Access to market is key for rural women. (Left) A woman vendor in Baoshan; (Right) Yao woman takes break after marketing in Honghe, Yunnan. (Photos: ICRAF)

A socio-economic focus for China´s climate change adaptation policies

As the effects of climate change become more tangible, national and provincial governments have announced new policies and governance mechanisms for drought response and climate change adaptation, but none of these policies address gender issues.

The case for more attention to the gender dimensions and impacts of climate change becomes critical as agricultural production becomes increasingly feminized and women take on multiple and non-traditional roles. The study’s findings indicate that women are taking on an increasingly active role in managing water during droughts but they are still excluded from formal decision-making about water management at the community level.

Based on these findings, the study recommends the adoption of new climate change policies that:

The lack of information and meaningful engagement with gender issues could lead to unfit government-supported adaptation responses that may not address the different priorities and needs of rural women, further marginalizing them, and will hinder the opportunity to benefit from women’s active contribution to water management.

Livestock supports local livelihood and provides nutrition for rural women. A Naxi woman milking her cattle. (Photo: ICRAF)


This research is part of the Himalayan Climate Change Adaptation Programme (HICAP), which is supported by the governments of Norway and Sweden and jointly implemented by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research at Oslo (CICERO), and GRID-Arendal in collaboration with local partners. Additional funding was provided by the gender cross-cutting component of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry. 

Ana Maria Paez Valencia is social scientist, gender, at the World Agroforestry Centre  and Manon Koningstein is a Communications Consultant for the Gender Integration Team of the Forest, Trees and Agroforestry programme.

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