Gender and Climate Change: Sustainability Systems Supporting Adaptation and Resilience

By Eleanor Radford, Associate Manager, ISEAL

This article discusses how sustainability systems can contribute to enhancing gender equality and women’s empowerment to promote adaptation and resilience to climate change. The study conducted by ISEAL in partnership with CGIAR shows how sustainability systems can integrate gender criteria in their standards and approaches to make positive contributions, enabling equality in wages and representation.

Women bear a disproportionate burden of the adverse impacts of climate change. In low- and middle-income countries, women are highly dependent on agriculture and natural resources, which, combined with existing inequalities, leaves them especially vulnerable. Yet, they are important economic actors who can play a critical role in tackling climate issues if given the right opportunities and support. So, what can sustainability standards and similar systems do to enhance gender equality and women’s empowerment to promote adaptation and resilience to climate change?

Research shows that sustainability systems have the potential to contribute to gender equality and women’s empowerment directly and indirectly. They can do this through the integration of relevant criteria in their standards and the activities and approaches used to support their implementation. Sustainability systems have the potential to make positive contributions, such as enabling equality in wages and income and skills upgrading.

ISEAL partnered with the CGIAR Gender Equality Initiative to better understand what sustainability systems are doing in this space. We started by looking at how gender is integrated into ISEAL Community Members’ systems that operate in agriculture and food sectors. This research built on an evaluation conducted in 2020.


Through interviews and discussion, we developed a picture of how our membership is seeking to advance gender equality and women’s empowerment. For example, some have basic requirements in their standards that aim to protect women from harm. These can focus on non-discrimination in the workplace, fair working conditions, no harassment or violence, effective grievance systems and promotion of social dialogue.


Others go further to proactively support gender equality through their standards and beyond. They may have requirements for gender policies and committees, gender risk mitigation measures, community-based women’s empowerment training, representation of women on committees and in management and skilled positions, and consultation processes that are representative and inclusive.


Programmes and initiatives that encourage women’s participation and help to transform the enabling environment for gender equality are also important to make a lasting impact in this space.

Gender strategies, research projects and pilots, training and guidance on gender equality, advocacy campaigns, and building women’s leadership and entrepreneurial skills are just some ways our membership is working to empower women and build their capacities and resilience.


The CGIAR and ISEAL study found that work promoting gender equality is building momentum. It is a growing priority with increasing opportunities and buy-in. At ISEAL, we are excited to explore with our partners and membership how sustainability systems can support an enabling environment for women to be changemakers when it comes to climate change.


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