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Gender approaches in climate compatible development: Lessons from urban India

This study explores the advantages and challenges of integrating gender dimensions into climate compatible development strategies through looking at a case study in Gorakhpur, India.
Photo credit: Atul Loke /


Climate change is increasingly recognised as a global crisis, but solutions have so far focused on scientific and economic options, rather than on the human and gender dimensions. Despite the fact that marginalised and poor people, including women, are affected first and hardest by climate change, evidence indicates that women’s views, needs and participation are excluded from the design and planning of climate change responses, including major policies. Moreover, women are often perceived primarily as victims, and not as equal contributors of knowledge and skills in disaster risk, adaptation and mitigation strategies.

Most research into gender and climate change has been carried out in rural contexts. Significant knowledge gaps exist on the relationship between these two issues in urban settings.

With the aim of contributing new evidence to this arena, this detailed study* explores the advantages and challenges of integrating gender dimensions into climate compatible development strategies. It focuses on a project launched by the Asian Cities Climate Change Resilience Network (ACCCRN) in India. This particular initiative was implemented over seven years by the Gorakhpur Environment Action Group (GEAG) in Mahewa Ward, Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh. Although it was not designed to have an explicit gender-based approach, the ACCCRN project integrated a gender perspective during planning and implementation through the establishment of committees, participatory vulnerability analysis and interventions in resilience planning, water and sanitation, climate-resilient agriculture, health, climate-resilient buildings and promotion of livelihood activities for women.

This study* underlines three key ideas: 1) that women are natural and easy brokers of learning around adaptation and emissions; 2) women offer far better value for money in adaptation and resilience building measures; and 3) women build the trust that is essential to move from the current pattern of growth to new or green growth.

*download available from the right-hand column of this page, and via the links provided under further resources. The key messages and main findings from the report are given below – see the full report for much more detail. You can also read the Policy Brief for this study.

Figure 2 from page 7 of the study: Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh, India

Key Messages

  • Participatory planning and monitoring can provide a space for women to contribute to decision-making processes and are crucial to improving the effectiveness and accountability of climate compatible development actions. In Uttar Pradesh, the 74th Constitutional Amendment, which mandates the involvement of citizens in local urban planning, should be fully operationalised in order to facilitate the institutionalisation of gender-based approaches and resilient micro-planning within government schemes.

  • Government policy and programmes relating to climate compatible development must integrate women’s perspectives when designing and implementing livelihood support strategies. Areas closely associated with women’s roles and responsibilities – such as education, food and health – require closer attention and more funding to help urban dwellers achieve better living standards and adapt to changing weather patterns.

  • Supporting women to achieve greater economic empowerment at an individual level is critical in order to maximise benefits from climate compatible development initiatives. This approach will place women in a stronger position to make decisions about investments in areas exposed to climate change, thereby building household resilience. Such support will involve activities aimed at transforming gender relations by building awareness and confidence among women, men, elders and society in general around equality and empowerment.

  • Research and projects must systematically collect gender-disaggregated data, analyse differentiated needs and vulnerability and develop gender-equality indicators. This data can help organisations to assess the realities of gender inequality, understand the practicalities of mainstreaming gender and report progress towards climate compatible development and gender equity goals.

  • Special efforts should be made to build networks and strengthen social cohesion in urban areas where interactions among neighbours appear limited, and dependency on outside help is greater. This can help to reduce the vulnerability of women and marginalised groups to the impacts of climate change and disaster events.

  • Donors must explicitly push for the integration of gender-based approaches in interventions, identifying willing actors who are capable of promoting gender equality, creating coalitions of the willing and supporting these actors. Likewise, donors should take a proactive role in promoting knowledge-sharing and exchange around these issues, helping to improve dissemination of practical tools and training to support adequate design, planning, implementation and monitoring of climate compatible development and gender equity outcomes. Finally, advocacy efforts are needed at policy level, where donors can exert influence by making funds available for gender-sensitive climate compatible development pilot projects, research and scaling up.

Main research questions and findings

What does a gender-sensitive approach to climate compatible development mean in the urban context?

Urban scenarios in India are very complex, with many social dimensions in terms of caste, gender and class. A gender-sensitive approach to climate compatible development is thus fundamentally different in cities, compared with one in rural areas. Urban residents demonstrate different vulnerabilities and capacities for facing the impacts of climate change than people living in rural areas. The main differences are: weaker social cohesion, meaning women and marginalised people are more dependent on external help in times of need; a greater likelihood of flooding and waterlogging due to poor infrastructure and basic services; higher levels of apathy among residents towards the condition of infrastructure, service delivery and the impacts of climate change; and a greater likelihood of food insecurity. GEAG, which implemented the ACCCRN project, adapted project activities to address these differences. The project design also took into account other practical considerations, such as the extra time required for building trust and confidence, working through community volunteers and arranging meetings to suit men and women’s availability. GEAG adapted popular participatory methods developed in the context of rural settings to suit the specificities of Mahewa ward. A case in point was a decision taken to carry out Participatory Urban Appraisals (PUA) through several smaller meetings, so as to understand the diversity of characteristics and issues involved.

According to the evidence, how relevant is gender-sensitive programming in climate compatible development to promoting and achieving people’s empowerment?

The active contribution of men and women in building resilience meant that practical issues had to be addressed across multiple areas affected by climate change. Women’s participation, in particular, made a substantial contribution to impact and sustainability, including how well committees functioned, access to potable water and public services and the uptake of climate-resilient agricultural techniques. Indeed, ACCCRN project members felt that: “Had women not participated actively, the project outcomes would have been considerably less, maybe around 10–20% of what was achieved. It is largely because of women (and also men) that the project has been sustainable so far, as well as effective in resilience-building.” Furthermore, women often prioritised low-income, marginalised groups as beneficiaries of project interventions. This approach succeeded in building people’s resilience and their capacities to absorb shocks and stresses brought about by a changing climate and extreme weather events. Greater degrees of transformation appear to be achieved when women are involved as agents, rather than as mere recipients. Such an approach involves creating spaces for women to share their experiences and perspectives and to contribute to decision-making processes, both at local and higher levels, where women’s voices tend to become lost in patriarchal governance structures. In the absence of a gender-based approach to project planning, evidence and learning around these impacts is inevitably ‘lost’ and it becomes more challenging to foster people’s empowerment. This can lead to the false conclusion that gender-based approaches are an optional (and burdensome) extra, rather than a key strategy for achieving greater impact and sustainability of climate compatible development in urban settings.

Does a gender-sensitive approach enable better climate compatible development outcomes and if so, in what way?

The ACCCRN project adopted various measures to respond to women’s vulnerability to climate change. In doing so, it achieved positive results in the following areas: training and information sharing on the subjects of health and water, improved access to potable water and increased immunisation rates among children; food and nutrition insecurity was addressed through climate-resilient agriculture; and alternative livelihood strategies improved income-generating opportunities for women. Where women played a role in deciding how to use this income, the money was spent on education, health and food. Opportunities to train with people from other neighbourhoods gave women and men a chance to overcome shyness and gain confidence, thereby contributing to the sustainability of interventions. Mixed meetings and fora helped men and women of different castes and classes to become more aware of the challenges they face and to take joint decisions. These participatory consultations brought out the diverse needs and priorities of community members, as well as a range of skills that were used to contribute to climate compatible development. Had the gender-sensitive approach been integrated from the planning right through to the evaluation stages, the impacts could have been longer lasting, more effective and wider ranging. For example, women’s participation beyond the community level was limited, and this probably prevented their experiences and perceptions from penetrating higher levels of decision-making power. Women’s input in these arenas will be needed if gender is to figure more prominently in policy and practice.

What socioeconomic, political and cultural factors constrain or favour gender-sensitive approaches in the context of climate compatible development, and the ability of men and women to tackle climate related risks in urban contexts?

In India, gender mainstreaming is not considered imperative in the process of developing climate compatible development mechanisms, especially when working on new issues or in unfamiliar settings. The popular belief is that when using a gender-based approach, it takes longer to understand the issues at hand and develop appropriate interventions. As a result, there may be a lack of willingness to ‘go the extra mile’. A direct consequence of this attitude is that the focus on integrating gender issues explicitly into projects tends to come from donor organisations. Men, and particularly women, face many cultural and social barriers that challenge their ability to tackle climate related risk, such as strong patriarchal structures, which dictate the roles they should play. While these barriers prevented many women from participating in the ACCCRN project, a few individuals were proactive, grew in confidence and took on leadership roles. Support and encouragement by facilitators, as well as attempts to build awareness among men, women and decision-makers about how people, including women and children, are affected by climate change, helped many women contribute to local planning processes.

This study is part of a global study commissioned by the Climate Development Knowledge Network (CDKN) and carried out by Practical Action Consulting (PAC), together with the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) in Latin America (Peru), Eastern Africa (Kenya) and South Asia (India).

Author and lead researcher: Reetu Sogani

Research team: Prof. S. S. Verma, Ajay Singh, Bijay Singh, Karuna Srivastava, Archana Srivastava, Anju Pandey, Irfan Khan and Nivedita Mani (all from the Gorakhpur Environment Action Group)

Review and editing: Virginie Le Masson (Climate and Development Knowledge Network, Overseas Development Institute), K. R. Viswanathan and Rebecca Clements (both from Practical Action Consulting)

Peer review: Alyson Brody and Lars Otto Naess (both from the Institute of Development Studies), Lisa Schipper (Research Associate, Overseas Development Institute), Jonny Casey (Practical Action) and Sebastian Kratzer

Suggested Citation

Sogani, R. (2016) Gender approaches in climate compatible development: Lessons from India. PAC, GEAG & CDKN Study. CDKN: London, UK

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