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Gender and Resilience

Individual, household and community resilience to climate extremes and disasters depend on the local context and the extent to which agencies address existing social dynamics and power relations.


The contribution that external interventions make to individual, household and community resilience to climate extremes and disasters will largely depend on the suitability of those activities to the local context and the extent to which implementing agencies address existing social dynamics and power relations.

Exploring the gender dimension of resilience to disasters and climate change encourages researchers and practitioners working in these fields to focus on people’s different relationships to the environment and access to resources. It also encourages them to assess how projects aimed at managing risk and building resilience are affected by social norms, including those pertaining to gender-based inequalities.

The analysis of NGO approaches in this paper reveals different levels of ambition, from recognising gender-based differences to targeting gendered interests and ultimately transforming gendered power relations. Several challenges were however identified within the gender elements of these projects related to their design, operational feasibility and the practicality of monitoring.

Please note that the following text provides sections from the report only. The full report can be downloaded here or via the link on the right of this page.

Challenges to Adequately Addressing Gender Equality (in brief)

The conceptual/design challenge

The majority of projects reviewed do not establish a strong link between the overall Theory of Change (ToC) for the project and a separate or ‘mini’ ToC of the relationship between gender empowerment and resilience. Doing this requires thinking through a potential two-way causality: dealing with the mechanism through which community level resilience building might act to strengthen gender equality; and the ways in which gender equality/women’s empowerment might act to strengthen community level resilience. Neither of these links can be assumed to work a priori, so both directions of influence need to be investigated in context and with attention to social norms. Understanding how empowerment might act to strengthen broader dimensions of resilience is important, but establishing a clear link and coherence between the overall intervention model for building resilience and the ways in which the project will fulfill women’s strategic and practical gender needs – and contribute to people’s empowerment – is even more critical.

The operational challenge

Two kinds of goals are variously listed in the project documents in relation to transforming power relations: firstly, some projects outline ambitions of achieving fundamental changes in cultural gender norms over a short project lifetime and, secondly, many of the projects promote gender power transformations through women’s engagement/participation in community institutions.

The scale of operation of the projects considerably amplifies the ‘operational’ gender challenge outlined here. The eight projects reviewed here have an average intended population coverage of 657,500, with the largest anticipated as reaching well over a million beneficiaries. The majority of empowerment activities require intensive and extensive village-level outreach, particularly where changes in cultural gender norms are being promoted through reflection amongst men. It is important that the practicality of these elements of the project designs is ‘stress tested’ before activities begin at scale. It is better to set out to achieve attainable goals than to have to reduce ambition after a period of compromised effort.

The Monitoring Challenge

All of the NGO projects reviewed here outline their intention to collect disaggregated data at the intra-household level on a range of important areas (e.g. incomes, time budgets, asset holdings and expenditures). In the documentation, it is not clear exactly what that would mean but it could, for example, entail interviewing all members of the household (or at least all adult members). Alternatively, it might mean interviewing the household head and relying on his or her view of the disaggregated picture. The organisational demands of the former approach are vastly greater even if sampling techniques area used.

The aspiration to collect ‘disaggregated data’ is in fact pretty meaningless if only the household head is interviewed. It cannot be assumed that a male household head will know in detail the livelihoods of the female members of the household – even if it is assumed that normative bias will not cloud the answers. Furthermore, given the nature of the task of measuring the effectiveness of resilience interventions, there is a highly compelling case for some form of comparison group. It is hard to assess the quality of response to a shock and infer the effectiveness of the intervention to build resilience without looking at how communities outside of the project react to the same shock.

Recommendations (in brief)

On the basis of the projects reviewed here, a set of key recommendations can be made to the NGOs being supported under the BRACED programme and others working on resilience projects:

  • Early in the project lifespan, analyse the connections between the ‘mini-theories of change’ concerned with the ambitious goal of transforming gender relations and the overall ToC for the resilience project. Use this exercise to adjust the project activities and design for greater coherence, gender impact and effectiveness of monitoring approaches. Include, in this exercise, a thorough examination of the 2-way causal relationships between women’s empowerment and community/household level resilience.
  • All planned activities, not just those geared towards empowering women and girls, should consider the gender angle of their implementation and impact. This entails consideration of how activities are addressing people’s practical and/or strategic needs and whether or not they reinforce gender inequalities. A gender-sensitive VCA should be used to help inform project design and implementation.

  • Undertake a ‘reality check’ on ambitions to achieve fundamental changes in cultural gender norms and women’s empowerment. Do this at the beginning of the project and return to the issue at the end of the first year to ensure that these ambitions are realistic and programming approaches are effective.

  • Consider systematic collection of data on perceptions to capture changes in gender relations. Data on the acceptability of women engaging in community level governance has produced some of the clearest results in the evaluation of Afghanistan’s National Solidarity Programme (NSP).

  • Check across the full range of projects that approaches to collecting disaggregated intra-household data are compatible and realistic.

In addition to the general set of recommendations outlined above, the existence of a large cohort of projects in the Sahel under BRACED creates a great opportunity for producing a consistent schema for outcome monitoring. These projects will interact with similar ecological, cultural and production systems, along with types of climate hazards (predominantly drought), hence a set of generic questions can be asked of all these projects to ensure gender–based outcomes for resilience are captured in project M&E (see box 5 in the report).


Dr Emily Wilkinson is a Research Fellow at the Overseas Development Institute and Head of Research for the BRACED programme. Her research focuses on the policy and institutional dimensions of disaster -and climate- risks, including incentives for risk-informed development planning. @emilycwilkinson

Dr Virginie Le Masson is a research officer at the Overseas Development Institute, leading the research theme ‘Gender and social equality’ within the BRACED programme. Her research interests combine disaster risk reduction, social development, human rights and gender equality. She is currently co-editing a book documenting gender relations in the context of climate change. @Virginie_LeM

Dr Andrew Norton is a social analyst with twenty-five years of experience of development practice multilateral, bilateral and research organisations. His areas of specialism include poverty analysis, social policy, sustainable development, climate action and human rights. Andrew is the Director of the International Institute for Environment and Development. Formerly he was Director of Research for ODI. @andynortondev

Suggested citation:

Wilkinson, E., Le Masson, V. and Norton, A. (2015) Gender and Resilience. BRACED working paper. London: Overseas Development Institute

BRACED (Building Resilience and Adaptation to Climate Extremes and Disasters)aims to build the resilience of more than 5 million vulnerable people against climate extremes and disasters. It does so through a three year, UK Government funded programme, which supports 108 organisations, working in 15 consortiums, across 13 countries in East Africa, the Sahel and Southeast Asia. Uniquely, BRACED also has a Knowledge Manager consortium.

Twitter: @bebraced

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