The importance of this day
Droughts are among the greatest threats to sustainable development, especially in developing countries, but increasingly so in developed nations too. In fact, forecasts estimate that by 2050 droughts may affect over three-quarters of the world’s population.
The number and duration of droughts has increased by 29 percent since 2000, as compared to the two previous decades (WMO 2021). When more than 2.3 billion people already face water stress, this is a huge problem. More and more of us will be living in areas with extreme water shortages, including an estimated one in four children by 2040 (UNICEF). No country is immune to drought (UN-Water 2021).
This year, the theme of the International Day Against Desertification, and Drought "Rising up from drought together", emphasises the need for early action to avoid disastrous consequences for humanity and the planetary ecosystems.
SAEDI Consulting Barbados (Inc.) echoes this call to action, recognizing that in order for early action to be taken, the gendered impacts of drought must be considered. Applying a gendered lens can mitigate the impact of droughts as it considers how different people are impacted in different ways.
The gendered impacts of drought
Vulnerability to drought includes both biophysical and socioeconomic drivers that determine people’s vulnerability and their capacity to cope with drought. Components of drought vulnerability include inadequate disaster management, technological and economic limitations, social factors and environmental constraints.
The disproportionate impacts of drought on women are often highlighted. Women are particularly more vulnerable than men are to such events, not because they are “naturally weaker” (a common gender discriminatory perception) – but because their social roles, responsibilities, limitations and capacities are different from those of men. Women are often poorer, receive less education and are excluded from political, community and household decision-making processes. Such economic and social inequities translate into fewer assets and means available to women for coping with the negative effects of drought.
The capacity to respond to drought is often influenced by decision-making power over the use of households’ assets in case of a hazard – an approach that compromises the involvement of women in drought-related decisions. Main indicators used to assess response capacity are education, participation in training, systems of saving, access to information related to drought, decision-making power over agricultural practices and technologies, livestock management, family size and place of residence, access to and control over money, social support availability, mobility, and ability to take part in income generating activities.
We work with clients and partners to develop innovative solutions to these socio-environmental issues surrounding the impacts of desertification and drought. Specifically, our work with the Women's Environment & Development Organization (WEDO) examines this very nexus of gender, climate change, conflict and displacement and where desertification, drought and land degradation can be exacerbated or caused by climate change. An important component of this work is understanding the overlapping and complex issues and the associated gendered experiences of women, men and non-binary people in order to craft solutions for adaptation, mitigation and resilience building.
This research will be pivotal in informing decisions on resource allocation, sustaining livelihoods, reducing tensions over natural resources and building financial resilience to the impacts of desertification, land degradation and drought. More importantly it will empower communities to adapt and respond to climate change moving beyond the limitations of gender discriminatory norms and practices.