"The climate crisis is not neutral to gender.”
This is how Marcela Chacon of Bayer opened Business Fights Poverty’s COP27 learning event last Thursday, where CARE UK joined representatives from across the private sector – including Mars, Bayer and the International Finance Corporation – to explore how businesses can better place gender equity at the heart of climate action.
Issues of gender and climate are often addressed in siloes, yet we know that climate change has a disproportionate impact on the poorest and most marginalised groups, especially women and girls. We also know that businesses, along with governments and NGOs, have a pivotal role to play in supporting climate justice. This was echoed at the Business Fights Poverty event, where there was clear agreement on the need for businesses to approach issues of gender, economic inclusion and climate action together.
To kick the session off, speakers put forward the steps their organisations are taking to help women build resilience and tap into the opportunities which come from the green transition. Providing access to finance was a common thread which emerged: at building-materials firm CEMEX, this includes a financing scheme to help women and their families rebuild and improve their homes after extreme weather events occur. Taking the view that ‘’you can’t donate your way out of issues of climate and gender’’, Mars has incorporated gender considerations directly into the Theory of Change it uses for financial-inclusion programming delivered through partnership with CARE. This includes supporting women cocoa-farmers to increase their financial resilience through Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs) in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana.
Engaging men and boys
Speakers also underscored the importance of engaging men and boys in action on gender inequality. For Anastasia Mbatia of Farm Africa, this is a key aspect of Farm Africa’s approach:
We ensure that both men and women are trained on gender so that they can be able to appreciate the key role that women contribute in agriculture.”
This was echoed amongst workshop participants such as Kelvin Muthui, Programme Coordinator at Caritas Kitui and IIED, who urged participants to ‘’engage men so that you can reconstruct the system that might be inhibiting women’s involvement”.
From skills training to women-centred programme design, Business Fights Poverty’s event showcased the breadth of opportunities which exist for business to drive action on climate whilst improving outcomes on gender. Through CARE’s long-standing experience of working with private sector partners, we know how valuable – and impactful – this action can be.
CARE programming brings together action on climate and gender for business
In Sri Lanka, CARE has been working through its Affiliate Chrysalis, in partnership with Twinings, to strengthen community decision-making on tea estates through Community Development Forums. These forums bring together estate workers, businesses, the government and the wider community to collectively address issues of wellbeing and productivity on the estate.
In addition to addressing issues of health, education and living standards, the forums have become a powerful platform for communities to respond to the impacts of erratic rainfall in Sri Lanka: between April – September 2022 alone, eight water projects were implemented by communities in response to adverse weather patterns. This includes the installation of a new drinking-water facility in the Aislaby estate, where limited access to water – especially in the drier seasons - has impacted families in the community for years. Now, women such as G. Gunalani, below, no longer spend hours per week collecting water, and have access to water facilities which is critical to managing their menstrual health and hygiene.
The forums have also increased women’s participation and leadership around community decision-making. Prior to their establishment, women held only 9% of formal leadership roles in community-based organisations across the estates. Now, 54% of these roles are held by women, meaning they have much greater influence over the decisions impacting their and their community’s lives.
Community-led reforestation in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana
In Côte d’Ivoire, the greatest climate threat facing the country’s cocoa farmers – around half of whom are women - is deforestation. Since 2000, tree cover in Côte D’Ivoire has decreased by 23% as agricultural practices including cocoa farming have expanded. Through the Cocoa Life project in both Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, CARE works with partner Mondelez and cocoa-farming communities to strengthen community action on reforestation and forest-protection. As part of this, Cocoa Life participants work together to identify areas where reforestation is needed and to distribute seedlings for reforestation.
The Cocoa Life project also works with members of CARE’s VSLAs in Côte d’Ivoire to open-up opportunities for agricultural adaptation. Through the project, VSLA members – who are largely women smallholders - can access financial support to invest in new tools and approaches needed for adaptation and to train on good agricultural practices. This means women farmers can adapt to new technologies and practices, as well as build financial resilience against any future shocks to their income such as extreme weather events.
Boosting access to economic opportunities for women in supply chains
CARE UK is also part of an alliance of global experts (along with PwC and Social Development Direct) delivering the UK government’s Work and Opportunities for Women (WOW) programme, which supports women working in supply chains to access greater economic opportunities. CARE recently contributed to a new report exploring the disproportionate impacts of climate change on women in supply chains with the Ethical Tea Partnership, Primark and Waitrose, which revealed women have less time for climate-smart training due to household responsibilities and restrictions on mobility. WOW is currently piloting approaches in Waitrose’ supply chains to help strengthen women smallholder’s access to training and activities on climate change adaptation and livelihoods diversification.
As we take a step back from COP and assess what has - or hasn’t - been achieved over the last two weeks, the Business Fights Poverty event shows the concrete steps being taken by the private sector to better centre gender within climate action. The impact we’re seeing through CARE programming shows the real change which can occur when action on gender and climate is taken together, and the value of partnership between NGOs and businesses in doing so.