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Gender Equality in Adaptation Fund Projects: What more can be done? – Insights from India

Blog post by Kavya Arora, Development Alternatives, India, June 2020
Woman creates seed banks for sustaining their own nutrition gardens resulting in more self-reliance.

Woman creates seed banks for sustaining their own nutrition gardens resulting in more self-reliance.

Across the world, there is an evident and growing global push to promote gender equity in developmental initiatives, which is also reflected in the Adaptation Fund’s (AF’s) Gender Policy. This stance has found support in global policy forums, international funds and multilateral organisations working on climate change adaptation. Slowly but steadily, this perspective is trickling down to implementing organisations, executing entities and the community institutions that connect the global funds to these vulnerable communities. This article shares some best practices from an AF project in India and provides concrete recommendations to India's implementing entity, NABARD, to strengthen gender considerations in existing and future adaptation projects.

Changing climate patterns in India are affecting women disproportionately

Climate change is a stark reality for rural communities in India, especially for women. India’s villages are already witnessing the adverse impacts of climate change due to their subsistence on nature-dependent activities such as agriculture, animal husbandry, fisheries and forestry. Natives can reliably indicate the reduction in rainfall and their agricultural yield over the last decade. Changing climate patterns and the consequent impact on water availability are affecting women disproportionately, as it is predominantly the women's task to ensure a steady supply of food and water in Indian households. It is thus imperative to include women's empowerment and gender-responsive strategies throughout all adaptation interventions.

The AF project in West Bengal addresses climate adaptation challenges in rural villages

The AF intervention in West Bengal, a state in the Gangetic plains in India, presents some good examples of gender inclusion and equality in community-led climate adaptation initiatives. It is important to note here that the Fund’s Gender Policy and Gender Action Plan (GAP), as well as the respective compliance guidelines, were approved after the West Bengal AF project was endorsed in October 2014. The project's executing entity, the Development Research Communication and Services Centre (DRCSC) has decades of experience in grassroots climate adaptation work, and has taken a multi-pronged approach to address adaptation challenges in agriculturally-driven villages. Interventions in this project include:

  • Women’s group involved in Azolla cultivation.

    Women’s group involved in Azolla cultivation.

    Creating diverse nutrition gardens of locally-grown food crops such as grains, vegetables and fruits
  • Creating watershed management structures such as farm ponds (hapas) and wells by synergising scientific and traditional knowledge
  • Setting up automated and (partly) community-managed weather monitoring stations
  • Setting up small animal husbandry and Azolla cultivation units and
  • Establishing community forestry patches.

Examples of women's involvement in project activities

Women have been significant contributors to all of these activities: as leaders of the intervention in villages, mobilisers and influencers in the community, and as equal beneficiaries. Development Alternatives, a core partner of the AF NGO Network, visited the intervention villages in the districts Bankura and Purulia in West Bengal. They observed the following practices of women’s involvement in project activities:

  • Women’s self-help groups (SHGs) formed in village Ranjandihi to support running project interventions (such as Azolla cultivation, vegetable cultivation and animal husbandry units).
  • Shar Shagun Mahila Dal (a women’s interest group) is actively reviving the concept of seed banks in their village. Many women in other villages have started replicating those seeds banks where they collect wild, native seeds from the farms and forests and preserve them for the next season.
  • In the village Hansapahadi, women actively use the weather station information to plan their routine agricultural activities.
  • Local women have been employed by DRCSC as community mobilisers in the intervention villages.
  • Community nutrition gardens set up by the project have contributed to the nutritional security of the families reducing women's burden.
  • Many women have reported a reduction in their daily fuel load from 2 kg to 1.5 kg by using the smokeless chulhas (stoves) that were distributed to various households in these villages. This consequently reduces their burden of collecting of fuelwood and health risks from the open burning of fuelwood.

Challenges to adequately include women in decision-making remain

There is concrete evidence that women in the intervention areas gained opportunities to become empowered and self-reliant. However, despite witnessing positive stories in the project's intervention villages, the inclusion of women in decision-making is still inadequate. This can be attributed to regional cultural norms where ownership of land is governed by a patriarchal system. This limits the role of women in decision-making and restricts them from being direct beneficiaries when new physical assets are being created.

Woman creates seed banks for sustaining their own nutrition gardens resulting in more self-reliance.

Woman creates seed banks for sustaining their own nutrition gardens resulting in more self-reliance.

At the other end of the system, we also observed an imbalance in the AF National Implementing Entity's (NIE) representation in these areas, with mostly male officers being involved in AF processes and project implementation.

Recommendations for NABARD and executing entities to strengthen gender considerations in future AF projects

The AF Gender Policy and GAP, approved by the AF Board in March 2016, includes specific compliance guidelines for NIEs. In December 2016, 2 years after the approval of the West Bengal AF project, NABARD received a technical assistance grant from the AF to strengthen its internal capacity to manage risks related to gender inclusion and environmental and social contexts in its climate adaptation work. Using this grant, the relevant experts at NABARD developed a framework for assessing gender, environmental and social risks in AF projects. NABARD submitted this framework to the AF Secretariat for feedback and approval.

All six AF projects in India were approved before the Fund's guidelines on gender considerations were issued in March 2016. Hence only some components of the Fund's gender guidelines were reflected in the six project proposals. To enhance NABARD’s alignment with the AF guidelines on compliance with the Fund's Gender Policy, we recommend that they:

  • Identify aspects of gender equality, intervention points and indicators for gender inclusion as well as the potential risks and understand the extent of alignment in the currently running projects.
  • Create a gender checklist for projects.
  • Appoint a focal person for guidance on gender issues and communication, offering continued support.
  • Have sufficient gender assessment capacity within the AF projects supervision unit of the NIE to conduct screening for gender responsiveness throughout the whole project cycle.
  • Include national stakeholders working on women’s issues from relevant ministries, development departments, advocacy organisations and networks in the project design and implementation process.
  • Take measures to ensure balanced gender representation within the unit at NABARD working on AF projects.

An opportunity to learn from the AF’s technical capacity building support

Women leading the community as mobilisers for climate change adaptation.

Women leading the community as mobilisers for climate change adaptation.

NABARD now has the opportunity to capitalise on its learning from the AF’s projects in India that are already under implementation and the technical capacity building received from the AF to strengthen future adaptation proposals. The AF guidelines demand that gender be considered a core factor in project design, management and execution. NABARD should carefully consider the following opportunities for promoting gender equality and tackling related challenges in existing proposals:

  • Creating community associations to enhance participation and ownership by women to enhance the viability of adaptation projects.
  • Directing benefits of interventions to women to improve their socio-economic conditions.
  • Working partnerships with institutions focussing on gender issues such as UN Women, national ministries for women’s empowerment, civil society and academic experts, to include gender aspects at the design and implementation phases of projects. This may help to co-leverage benefits from specific gender programmes of the state government.
  • Identifying gender disaggregated indicators (including ethnicity, age and social status) to report beyond quantitative impacts, focussing on enhancing women’s leadership, decision-making, economic ability and improved living standards.

The consideration of the AF’s gender principles by NABARD, in their capacity as a financing institution for climate adaptation action, is crucial to generate long-lasting and equitable impacts for the most vulnerable populations of the world.

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Kavya Arora, Development Alternatives