1963-2018 - 55 years of Research for Social Change

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Back | Programme Area: Gender and Development

Gender Dimensions of Food and Water Security in Dryland Areas

  • Project from: 2014 to 2015

Dryland areas and the people living in them are extremely diverse, with rural livelihoods comprising nomadic, semi-nomadic, transhumant and sedentary smallholder agricultural populations, in addition to urban centres, many of which are growing rapidly. People living in dryland areas have always confronted the need to adapt their livelihoods to a challenging and changing environment. Recent years, however, have seen an intensification of these constraints and growing unpredictability. Food and water insecurity for people living in dryland areas are the result of the complex interaction of a range of political, social, economic and environmental factors.

Research on drylands is divided regarding the main causes of poverty and insecurity, and, consequently, the solutions to the problems. On the one hand, studies by international organizations, including UN agencies, have tended to focus on problems of food security and climate change, with dryland livelihoods considered a cause of problems such as environmental degradation and low productivity agriculture, as well as being the site of potential solutions. As a result, policy recommendations focus on new technologies and environmental rehabilitation projects that can contribute to sustainable land management practices that meet both social and environmental objectives. On the other hand, researchers who pursue more ethnographic or action-oriented research see problems facing dryland populations from the perspective of the people that inhabit these regions. As a result, problems are considered to originate in the interventions of external actors; this perspective emphasizes the importance of local knowledge and capacities in finding productive and sustainable solutions to dryland development challenges.

The gender dimensions of food and water security in drylands, including the often problematic gendered impacts of proposed interventions and solutions are relatively neglected in research, analysis and policy. Critical questions for consideration from a gender perspective relate to social impacts and policy choices, including:
  • In what ways are the challenges and impacts of environmental change for populations in dryland regions gendered?
  • How do policy interventions and the introduction of new technologies differentially impact different social groups, by gender, in dryland areas?
  • Under what conditions can state and/or donor-led policy initiatives address the gendered social, political, economic and environmental challenges facing dryland populations?
  • How can state capacity to deliver large-scale programmes be combined with the participation of the local population to ensure local people, including women, have control over policies that can transform their livelihoods?
  • What is the potential for recent technological advances to complement the local knowledge and capacity for innovation that is central to dryland livelihood security and effective resource management?
  • What interventions at the intersection of environmental and social policies can assist in overcoming barriers to gender equity in dryland (or other environmentally constrained) regions?

Gender Dimensions of Food and Water Security in the Dryland Areas of China: A Scoping Study

The above research questions are explored through a one-year scoping study on the social and gender dimensions of water and food security and livelihoods in dryland regions of China.

The Research Issue in Context
In the wider context of global climate and environmental change, China has a pivotal role to play. Overall, China faces a severe and deteriorating situation of water shortage, for example, which affects many dimensions of rural and urban livelihoods, but particularly those of the rural poor and populations in dryland or pastoral areas. Among such areas and populations (often inhabited by ethnic minority groups), women commonly face additional and intersecting forms of disadvantage along multiple dimensions.

Nevertheless, China is relatively absent from the global and development literatures on this topic, despite extensive dryland regions and pastoralist populations within the country, as well as the problems of unsustainable water use that affect populations and livelihoods both within and beyond its borders.

Research Objectives
The scoping study aims to:
  • Review international evidence on Chinese dryland areas through a gender lens;
  • Build a network of scholars, practitioners and policy makers engaged in work at the intersection of environmental (water, climate) issues, livelihoods and gender in these regions; and
  • Identify areas for future interventions and research.

Activities and Outputs
A workshop, which took place in Beijing on 16 December 2014, gathered together experts on the topic. In this workshop, the findings from the Chinese and English literature reviews as well as expert perspectives were brought together, and gaps in knowledge and public policy were shared among the participants, setting the basis for further research.

An Issue Brief based on the extensive literature review and workshop outcomes will highlight the key gaps in the current debates on the gender dimensions of food and water security in Chinese dryland regions and provide recommendations for future research and policy interventions.

This activity is funded by the Ford Foundation’s Beijing Office.

The Gender Dimension of Drought in Ethiopia: A Contribution from the Field

The research questions presented above are also explored in a forthcoming UNRISD Working Paper, The Gender Dimensions of Drought in Fedis Woreda District, Ethiopia.

The paper presents the key findings of field research that aimed to assess how men and women experience drought in Eastern Ethiopia. It explores men’s and women’s disaster risk to drought with the aim to provide a broader understanding of the phenomenon to policy makers, sector officers and researchers both within and outside the country.