Is climate change worsening the gender gap in agricultural employment opportunities?

April 2023

According to PEP researchers, the impacts of climate change on agriculture are experienced unevenly, with women in some African countries particularly vulnerable to climate shocks.

The climate crisis is one of the most urgent challenges of the 21st century. As scientists around the world sound the alarm on the catastrophic consequences of climate change, the global South is already shouldering a disproportionate share of the burden. A growing frequency of severe weather events such as floods, droughts, and heatwaves—a direct consequence of climate change—has adversely affected household conditions, especially in rural areas in Sub-Saharan Africa, where agriculture is the primary source of subsistence and livelihoods.

While climate change's detrimental impact on agricultural productivity is widely recognized, its effects are not felt equally by all genders, and this critical disparity remains under-explored.


Gendered impacts of climate change

Studies carried out by PEP researchers in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Malawi, Nigeria, and Tanzania highlight the common challenges faced by women and girls. The impact of climate change on agriculture takes a heavier toll on women, as rising temperatures and unstable weather patterns threaten food security, particularly for households led by women.

As farmers grapple with the need to adapt and find solutions amidst the economic shocks brought on by extreme weather events, research from our Global Affairs Canada (GAC)-supported initiative called "Climate Change in Africa: Impacts and Responses for Women and Girls" shows that women face a harder battle. Inequalities in access and control over agricultural resources, such as land and financing, limit women's adaptation capacity.


Policy options to support women and girls

Agricultural resources are available for coping with changing climates and adverse weather events, but ensuring access to them is vital. Local PEP researchers have found that by easing access to essential resources, such as fertilizers and climate-resilient seeds, rural households can better protect their production and incomes, particularly those led by women.

As women gain equitable access to the resources required to manage thriving farmland—machinery, equipment, raw materials—their vulnerability to climate change significantly reduces. In addition, wide-spread use of sustainable agricultural interventions can benefit all members of a community.

Cash assistance, PEP researchers found, can also play a substantial role in boosting the economic empowerment and resilience of women farmers. By providing much-needed financial support, these programs can help bridge the resource gap and further enhance women's ability to adapt to the challenges posed by climate change. However, research suggests that subsidies and other agricultural support measures must be paired with initiatives that focus on educating and empowering women to enhance their effectiveness. Providing training in climate-smart agricultural practices or promoting equitable access to land through necessary Land Tenure Act reforms, for instance, can further enhance the impact of financial interventions for women in this sector. 


Climate change and rural employment 

Research conducted in Burkina Faso and Lesotho under the PEP's Policy Analysis on Growth and Employment (PAGE II) initiative reveals that climate change-induced disruptions in rural employment varies between countries and has distinct consequences for men and women.

In Lesotho, researchers examined how climate shocks affect the employment and household income of farming households headed by men and women. They found that women were disproportionately affected by extreme weather events. Through drought episodes, for instance, men increase their farming efforts, particularly in the male-dominated livestock sector,  but women's labor-force participation declines, and unemployment increases. With limited access to mitigation strategies and fewer options to adapt to changes in employment availability, women are less resilient to climate shocks.

Meanwhile, in Burkina Faso, research findings indicated no significant gender bias in the distribution of climate change effects, suggesting that both men and women face similar challenges in the face of weather changes.


Responding to the need for context-specific solutions 

The contrasting results from the PEP PAGE II and GAC initiatives demonstrate the specific challenges faced by women and girls in different countries and the complexities and nuances of climate change's impact. As the climate crisis continues to affect countries across the globe, the lessons learned from PEP researchers in Sub-Saharan Africa can inform more equitable and effective solutions.

By placing gender equality and local context at the forefront, policymakers can develop sustainable adaptation and mitigation strategies to enhance the welfare of local communities and pave the way for a more resilient future for all.


These findings are from projects supported by PEP under the Climate Change in Africa: Impacts and Responses for Women and Girls initiative, funded by Global Affairs Canada (GAC) and the second Policy Analysis on Growth and Employment (PAGE II) initiative, co-funded by Canada’s International Development Research Centre and UK Aid.

Find out more about the projects featured:

Policy Analysis on Growth and Employment (PAGE II)

Burkina Faso

Adaptation au Changement climatique, genre et la pauvreté au Burkina Faso: une analyse macro-micro

Project page      Findings      Policy Brief      Working Paper


The Effect of Weather shocks on female labour supply and female-headed households’ income in Lesotho

Project page      Findings      Policy Brief      Working Paper

Climate Change in Africa: Impacts and Responses for Women and Girls

Microeconomic analysis

Nigeria**  Gendered Effects of Crop Diversification and Rainfall Shocks on Household Food Security Status in Nigeria

Malawi*  Climate shocks and decision-making amongst smallholder farm households in Malawi: Do gender roles influence adaptation?

Tanzania  Adoption of Multiple Climate Smart Agriculture Practices: Study on Gender Welfare Gap and Policy Options for Women Empowerment


Macro-micro policy modelling

Burkina Faso***  Chocs pluviométriques sur le bien d’être des femmes agricultrices au Burkina Faso

Cameroon**  Impact genre des politiques publiques d’adaptation au changement climatique sur la sécurité alimentaire au Cameroun

*Low-income economies (LIE)   **Fragile or conflict-affected situations (FC)  ***LIE and FC


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