I was very happy to be a part of Business Fights Poverty’s Climate Justice Summit. The topic of conversation – gender equity and its role in combatting climate change – is one of the most pertinent subjects. And it got me seriously thinking about the work we’re doing at CottonConnect, and how we can boost our programmes to go further and faster to unlock one of the biggest conundrums in turning the tide on the climate crisis.
I remember when Paul Hawken published his climate mitigation plan, Drawdown, back in 2017. Dubbed “the most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming”, it brought the idea of women’s empowerment as an effective climate solution into the spotlight. In ranking 100 solutions in terms of their potential to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, he placed ‘educating girls’ and ‘family planning’ sixth and seventh, respectively.
It reinforced our view that by giving women the tools, knowledge and capacity, they can play a key role in tackling GHGs. It also helped to focus our minds, to focus on what’s most important and where we can have the most impact as an organisation. According to the latest UN climate report, 40% of the world’s population – or 3.6 billion people – are currently highly vulnerable to climate change impact and an additional 130 million people will be pushed into poverty over the next ten years if GHGs are not drastically reduced. Crucially, changes to our climate profoundly impacts all areas of women’s lives and livelihoods.
I have seen it first-hand during my travels and discussions with our teams in Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, in particular. The talented women I have met, though not inherently vulnerable, experience climate impacts very differently to men. Women workers make up around 47% of the agricultural workforce globally.
Our own research shows that climate change impacts – including temperatures, harvest periods, monsoon frequencies, pest incidences and biodiversity loss – result in a disproportionate impact on women cotton farmers. They experience reduced income as the productivity of livestock decreases due to reduced fodder and water. They have less time for themselves as they have to spend more time on the farm to deal with increased weeds and pests. They often face challenges in access to control of economic assets, including land, tools and credit. They commonly undertake unpaid care and domestic responsibilities in addition to their role on the farm. This makes it harder to boost their incomes or get involved in training or education.
We have long believed that climate adaptation and mitigation are more effective when women are involved. Given the right training, skills and tools, women tend to make more sustainable decisions. They bring holistic change to communities and drive progress. When elevated to a decision-making position, women encourage better climate governance and more climate innovation.
Through our programmes, we’re committed to helping women overcome many of the barriers they face. Our activities and initiatives include:
- Educating farmers on climate-related challenges by providing literacy and training. We also want to help provide the right infrastructure to lessen the burden on women, such as helping farmers with financial assistance in the form of self-help groups.
- Making use of technology. We can increase the reach to farmers through digital technology, especially in countries like India, where digital technology penetration is high and also supported by the Government. We don’t always need to reinvent solutions and think outside the box every time. We have to look for the most suitable solution and apply that to the problems that exist.
- Shifting gender norms. It’s crucial that we train both men and women. That way, men are able to appreciate the key role that women contribute in agriculture, and the burden to find solutions doesn’t solely lie with women.
- Improving market linkages for women farmers and encouraging businesses to procure from women entrepreneurs.
I’m proud that we’re enabling women to actively be a part of climate solutions as local change agents rather than being the victims of our changing climate. Without specific outreach efforts, just 4% of women join any form of training programme that could assist them as farmers and champions within their communities. Our goal is to create Climate Change Ambassadors across our programmes in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. These trained change agents at the grassroots level will help, motivate and guide other villagers to adopt climate-smart agricultural practices, creating a ripple effect. The focus will be on adopting low-cost, locally relevant, replicable, sustainable and climate-smart measures.
None of this is easy. And I love being a part of roundtable conversations like the ones BFP organises. Being at the heart of important conversations with like-minded people makes me realise that there is already some great work happening out there. Together, we are all solving similar challenges and we must continue to share our learnings and work together as much as possible.
Gender inequality stems from a patriarchal mindset and deep-seated traditions that limit women’s access to education, training, assets and finances. But shifting gender norms and unlocking the cultural barriers with men, both at the individual and societal level, will provide better opportunities for women – which is great news for people and the planet.
To succeed, we will continue listening to women in our programmes and find solutions that will specifically support them to thrive as farmers and important members of rural communities everywhere.