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[KAMPALA] For women living in rural areas of developing countries, levels of vulnerability to climate change and the capacity to adapt to its impacts varies greatly — with some even more resilient than men, three pilot studies in Africa and Asia has revealed.

Researchers found that women's abilities to cope with various climate change impacts depend on factors such as social status; access to resources; cultural norms; and access to social networks such as discussions in community groups and message passing, for instance through church gatherings

The team from the Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) at the CGIAR Consortium revealed their findings in a working paper entitled Participatory Gender-sensitive Approaches for Addressing Key Climate Change-related Research Issues — Evidence from Bangladesh, Ghana and Uganda, published by the consortium on 23 August.

The three sites were chosen for their similar cultures and levels of development. 

Researchers used participatory research tools to assess responses to and knowledge of climate change impacts among women in these regions. They assessed farmers' use of exchange visits as one adaptation strategy, seasonal weather forecasting platforms, and gender-sensitive, climate-smart agricultural practices.

Florence Birungi Kyazze, a researcher involved in the study, said the study had revealed that irrespective of gender, farmers relied on indigenous knowledge for weather forecasting. This has severely hindered their adaptability to environmental change, Kyazze explained.

"The reason farmers, especially women, rely on indigenous knowledge is because [they] cannot afford radios, television sets or mobile telephones to access formal weather forecast information," said Kyazze.

Furthermore, "many participants struggled to understand formal weather forecasts when [they were] presented and discussed," while others had never before seen conventional media symbols for representing weather patterns, such as sunshine or rainfall. And "women were not familiar with the weather symbols".

The study also found that women were less likely to visit other farmers to learn best or to seek weather forecasting information, due to cultural norms that restrict women's freedom of movement. This was particularly the case in Bangladesh and Uganda, researchers found. 

According to Kyazze, "women do not go out to look for agricultural information" but instead, "with no prior intention, [they] find something agriculture-related to excite them" while performing daily tasks such as taking children to school, visiting the market, or collecting water. 

But Paul Isabirye, coordinator of the Climate Change Unit at Uganda's Ministry of Water and Environment, said the number of farmers using indigenous knowledge had dropped from 50 per cent in the early 1980s to 22 per cent due to its unpredictability.

"Several farmers were [suffering], until various organisations working with the ministry of water and environment began working to re-orient them towards adapting to the current climate changes," said Isabirye.

He told SciDev.Net that they are now disseminating information in local languages, and are involving civil society organisations, such as churches, in passing on these messages.

Link to full paper