Gendered adaptation to water shortages and climate change


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Women and climate change induced water shortages

Climate changes largely affects sectors traditionally associated with women, such as paddy cultivation, cotton and tea plantations, and fishing. In developing countries, women are are typically responsible for water collection in their communities and are therefore more affected when the quality of, or accessibility to, water resources changes. Together with their limited adaptative capacities arising from prevailing social inequalities and formerly ascribed social and economic roles, creates increased hardshipd for women. Essentially, women overwhelmingly bear a disproportionate burden of climate change consequences, including decreased food security, shortage of and reduced access to water resources, and threatened existence, given their high dependence on natural resources for their livelihoods. There is a vital need to increase women's adaptive capacity to changes in water availability and accessibility brought about by climate change.

Developing and implementing gender-sensitive adaptation strategies

The information below provides details of:

  • Experiences creating gender-sensitive adaptation strategies to water-related effects of climate change;
  • Organisations that are involved in developing capacities to reduce vulnerabilities and and increase women's adaptation to increased water shortages;
  • Case studies, documents and project briefs on gender sensitive adaptation, reducing disaster risk of women dependent on water and other natural resources for their livelihoods.

Experiences in Tamil Nadu, India

Empowering women as conservators of water and the environment

Water is a very precious commodity in Tamil Nadu. Self-help groups have oriented women to protect the areas around hand pumps. The women canalize the wastewater and use it to water vegetable and fruit gardens and collect water users’ fee from every household for maintenance of the hand pumps. These women have also been trained under the project to repair hand pumps, and have been trained in rainwater harvesting, and are now empowered to raise their voices with Panchayati members and officials from the forest conservation departments regarding environmental issues.

Village Level Management of Water Resources, Viluppuram District of Tamil Nadu

The DANIDA funded Water and Sanitation project , sought to improve community-managed, sustainable water supply and sanitation systems in rural villages and strengthen the gender balance in management of resources. A major focus of the project was protecting women’s health and hygiene. The project orientated men and women on having household toilets; it also worked to establish community level self-governance and management of drinking water supplies. DANIDA assisted Water & Sanitation project document

Experiences in Sikkim, India

Rotating Seed Variety to Address Water Shortage Problems, Pudang

In one village facing water problems for paddy rice cultivation, woman farmers decided to change the variety of seed planted each year. The farmer switched to a variety called Adde and alternates every 2-3 years with another variety Dudhe, which requires less water. The usual practice in the region is to grow a particular variety for 2-3 years and when the seeds’ quality starts deteriorating, farmers exchange the seed with the seed of another variety most suited to their conditions to help them adapt to changes.

Water Shortages Forcing Changes in Cultivation Practices, Kalimpong

Farmers have started to face water shortages. These farmers have been engaged in wet rice cultivation, which is becoming difficult. Farmers from the Lepcha community in Pudung village have marital relations with Lepchas in north Sikkim, who do traditional dry-land paddy cultivation using traditional seeds. Now Lepcha farmers need seeds for dry-paddy cultivation, and are trying to initiate a dialogue with farmers in the north to procure the native seeds they lost when they started wet rice cultivation.

Experiences in Gujarat

Educating Communities on Water Needs with Gendered Focus

PRAVAH , a state level advocacy network of more than 150 organizations is implementing interventions on related to drinking water and sanitation with gender focus. In their interventions, they educated the local communities, including women by organizing capacity-building workshops with member organizations and local community-based organizations, with an emphasis on promoting gender equality.

Experiences in Rajasthan

Protecting Groundwater Utilization, Jaipur - The Bisalpur Project

The Bisalpur Project , near Jaipur City in Rajasthan, aimed to lower extensive use of groundwater and protect the groundwater in the city of Jaipur. The city has large number of hotels to cater to tourist population and they use ground water extensively, besides domestic and other commercial uses. The transportation of water from nearby Bisalpur is costlier than the ground water. To help lower extensive use of groundwater and protect the ground water in Jaipur, the Bisalpur project educated people to understand the cost of saving the environment- protecting the ground water in the Jaipur region.

Moringa is an additional adaptation strategy. Seeds found on Moringa trees in Tropical and Sub-tropical regions provide a means of water purification, creating safe drinking water in remote rural communities in developing countries.

Organisations successful at increasing women's adaptative capacity to water shortages


  • Gendered dimensions of vulnerability and resilience must be incorporated into adaptation strategies . Women must especially be involved, since they predominantly manage household chores, and bear the greatest brunt of climate change.
  • Adaptation strategies should be developed through a participatory approach in order to ensure communities/women can effectively deal with resulting scaracity of fresh water, groundwater and flora and fauna. Merely constructing water pipes to supply water or building toilets to benefit women is not enough. Governments and donors must ensure a participatory approach involving men, women, panchayats and community based organisations.


Further useful resources and websites

UN Water: Gender, Water and Sanitation - A Policy Brief Illustrates the interlinkages between gender equality and women’s empowerment and access to water and sanitation emphasising the role of women in water management.

Freshwater Action Network

Sustaining Livelihoods through Watershed Initiatives: A Success Story from Hyderabad Discusses how village women formed into women sangams decided to take up water harvesting techniques with the help of Youth For Action (YFA)

Mainstreaming Gender in Water Management A guide capturing tools, materials, case studies, best practices to bring a gender perspective to water sector capacity building and mainstreaming gender in project cycle.

Climate Change Adaptation in Water, Agriculture and Coastal Areas Discusses the larger context of climate change, shares environmental impact findings and mentions experiences with climate resilient water, agriculture and coastal management practices.


This article is based on the Consolidated Reply to the query (by UNDP India) on experiences of gendered adaptation to water shortages and climate change, which was sent over the UNDP listserve in April 2008.

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