Addressing womens’ vulnerability to climate change

By Felix Kwabena Donkor

GenderCC and Earthlife Africa Johannesburg are working jointly with communities in three provinces with the aim of improving women’s resilience to climate change through developing farming skills that enable them to provide food for their families and establish cooperatives to generate cash income.

Climate change presents different challenges across social strata.  The increased frequency and intensity of droughts and the associated food insecurity impacts small-scale farmers immensely, most of whom are women.  Women are also often vulnerable to climate change due to their high dependence on natural resources and fewer physical resources or assets to sell for cash income. The project recognises the role of women as household leaders and addresses some of these vulnerabilities by improving access to water and energy for about 350 women, and enhancing their skills in sustainable farming.

The practical objectives are:

  • reduce the amount of time that the women spend searching for water and doing household work so that they can invest more time in income generating activities;
  • provide access to clean energy options and train women to manage such resources;
  • build capacity in sustainable farming so that women can maximise output from their food gardens.

Crop yield is improved through compost provided by newly installed biogas digesters, access to energy is improved through biogas digesters and photovoltaic panels, and access to water is improved through water harvesters.

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Image on left: Project participants at Risenga Primary School, Siyandhani Village, at their first harvest
Image on right: Project participants at Founders Educare Center in Cape Town installing a biogas digester and learning how it works


The project was developed in partnership with communities and stakeholders, and included knowledge sharing workshops on the causes and impacts of climate change and adaptation solutions. Women in the various communities formed structures that are responsible for implementing the work and ensuring its sustainability. Project sites were selected based on the presence of large numbers of women farmers and their interest in being part of the programme. In Gauteng there are four project sites, in Magaliesburg, Soweto, Vaal Ekurhuleni and Springs. There are two project sites in the Western Cape, in Khayelitsha and Green Park, and two in Limpopo, in Tzaneen and Giyani.

The project activities were premised on a learn and build methodology, to enable project participants to install, maintain and manage new equipment, and use new farming techniques. The techniques are locally appropriate, locally owned and easy to manage. Some hard lessons were learnt during project implementation, such as ensuring that communities are supportive of the project, and the need for respect for community structures and gender and cultural norms. Project members also implemented an approach to sharing proceeds to maintain harmony and goodwill amongst stakeholders: a third of produce from the food gardens is sold to generate income, a third is given to school feeding schemes, and a third is for household consumption.

The project demonstrates how appropriate leadership and incentives can mobilise communities to address vulnerability. However on-going support is required for training and marketing of produce.