Climate Change Adaptation and Gender Inequality: Insights from Rural Vietnam

This article examines gender, class and age as variables – and shows how these variables can significantly impact the adaption for climate resistant crops. In Vietnam, as women do most the farm labour, by not listening including women, policies and initiatives will fail.

Dr

Josephine Ylipaa

(She/Her)

Researcher

CECAD Research Center

Josephine has a special interest in natural resources, justice, gender, rural development and policy/governance. She has worked on sustainability issues from many different angles but her main focus areas are gender, rural development, farming (agriculture/aquaculture), policy and climate change.

Swede
This article examines gender, class and age as variables – and shows how these variables can significantly impact the adaption for climate resistant crops. In Vietnam, as women do most the farm labour, by not listening including women, policies and initiatives will fail.

Key Takeaways

  • The research shows that farmers in Thái Bình are environmentally vulnerable by living in and being part of communities that are already impacted by climate change. In addition, they are financially constrained, socially affected, and burdened by increased stressors. However, capacities connected to that vulnerability vary within the community, making certain people more exposed and vulnerable than others, not intrinsically but contingently. Age, class, and gender are clear parameters in the identification and evaluation of vulnerability within the overarching threat of climate change impacts. Increasing labour migration due to farming not being lucrative, in combination with a state-induced pressure on increased production, leaves elderly and female farmers behind both literally, in terms of place (rural agriculture) and in terms of equality and human well-being, leading to or even reinforcing, the feminisation of farming. Meanwhile, women lack rights to and control over resources that they are nonetheless responsible for in terms of outcome. Thus, women are unable to access and contribute to knowledge production in order to alleviate the pressing situation they are in, nor possess the power to participate in or influence policy-making.
  • The study argues for gender-informed climate change adaptation that acknowledges a suite of essential conditions, such as the gendering of capacities and impacts, the feminization of farming, an ageing rural generation, and socially differentiated local knowledge and experiences.
  • The national strategies and policies that are supposed to increase the adaptation capacity lack a holistic sustainability perspective by not acknowledging site-specific differentiated rights, responsibilities, knowledge generating capacities, and vulnerability. It is simply not enough to rely on economic instruments or technological solutions, especially when farming livelihoods are continually devalued. Technological solutions fail to address gendered regimes and dynamics, which result in few opportunities and weak sustainable adaptation for farmers, specifically female farmers. If social relations in terms of age, class, gender, and location are not highlighted and considered in national strategies and policies, it will be very difficult to reach social goals and national targets on economic growth, climate response, gender equality, and sustainable development.

How To Apply Insights

  • Include all the stakeholders across a project or policy cycle from development to implementation. For example, looking into farming a particular crop, then need to know that everything is interlinked, and there is a need to examine and understand the whole value chain. Past and present national strategies and provincial implementation plans linked to climate change do not consider the burden affecting rural female farmers; instead, the focus lies on addressing technical solutions to adaptation.
  • Gender and justice often get overlooked concerning climate change. Gender, justice and vulnerability are crucial aspects and must be included from the outset to navigate avoidable issues. Including gender does not necessarily mean the whole initiative needs to have a gender focus. Instead, there needs to be some consideration to incorporate aspects and variables from a gendered perspective.
  • It is important to know whose knowledge you are collecting. Surveys often yield male-dominated expertise as it is sent to the head of the household to fill, usually male, failing to capture the opinion of women. Rather than requesting the head of the household – a better idea is “the one who is responsible for this work” or separate different groups to navigate the data collection. This way, one can ensure that the data is more representative.

Why This Research Matters

Many initiatives are looking to push the adoption of more climate-resistant agriculture. However, climate incentives have primarily focused on natural systems perspectives, leaving a knowledge gap on how human systems have become vulnerable to and impacted by climate change, not least in terms of gender and how women and men seek to adapt to climate change. Understanding the impacts of and vulnerabilities to climate change, including social relations and power structures, is vital for determining which types of adaptation strategies could be helpful for specific cases and particular contexts. Here, gender plays a crucial role in global responses, not only because adaptation is gendered but also because women are affected differently and may perceive climate change in alternate ways to men.

Findings & Research Conclusions

This research was guided by feminist political ecology and examined three interconnecting concepts to explore who has access and control over resources, who has the influence to shape public knowledge, and who is represented and comprehended in policy in Vietnam. These were:

Policy & Implementation: As the current approach is not intended at a local level, there is a considerable gap between this policy and the implementation needed on the ground. The policies have focused on technical and infrastructural solutions, not human capacities, which means it overlooks the aspects of gendered impacts and adaptation like the feminization of farming or trying to alleviate the female farming burden.

Knowledge: The research showed that while women take on most of the farming responsibilities, they are rarely consulted during policy – or even an NGO programme design – meaning their knowledge and experience are not being represented and included. Yet their knowledge and experience should be considered extremely valuable as they do most of the labour. If policy and projects do not listen to female stakeholders, then subsequent climate-focused policies, projects, and initiatives will lead to infallible results.

Rights & Responsibilities: Household and livelihood responsibilities are divided by gender. While women are a crucial part of the household and farming, they do not have the same access or decision-making power over the crops and other resources as men. While this is the case, with the increasingly extreme weather, women face additional workloads in the household and agriculture.

Lacking the same mobility as men, women are facing additional burdens. This is especially the case for older women from lower-income families, who this research found were the most vulnerable to climate change. These women must continue to work on the farm and manage the increasing burdens but cannot influence decision-making.

About Case Study

Vietnam is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change impacts, especially from extreme weather events such as storms and floods. Thus, climate change adaptation is crucial, especially for natural resource-dependent farmers.

Vietnam’s rapid growth in agricultural production enabled the country to decrease poverty and develop economically, establishing Vietnam as a beacon of the green revolution. More recently, there has been a shift in political attention from reforming traditional agriculture and ensuring food security to contemporary concerns over climate change. With the pronounced desire for economic growth in the name of development, the human–environmental dimensions of sustainability have been overlooked in society and politics. The push for increased production has led to the overuse of pesticides and herbicides, higher input costs, and increased water use. Small-scale farming, including agriculture and aquaculture, is still a crucial livelihood for food security and income generation. Small-scale farming provides food to over 71% of the total population of Vietnam and employs more than half of the population in Thái Bình.

Thái Bình has four seasons, with a pronounced wet period from April to August, followed by a dry period from September to December. Due to the variation in climate, farmers in Thái Bình adopt diverse livelihoods to ensure ongoing production throughout the year. Optimally, the labour requirements of the different livelihoods peak during different seasons, yet they often require ongoing maintenance for most of the year. This adaptation strategy mitigates risk by decreasing dependence on a sole source of income—if the weather damages one type of livelihood, there are two more on which one can rely.

 

 

Research's methodology

The research was based on ten key informant interviews at NGOs and research institutes and four focus group discussions: two with male and two with female farmers in each commune. The communes were both based in rural districts in the province of Thái Bình. Focus groups were segregated by gender to help participants explore their truth. And due to the sensitive nature of the research location, all respondent data was anonymised. A seasonal calendar was also used as a tool for the farmers to draw the wet period, the dry periods and when they were active and map their farming activities.

This research is relevant to other South East Asian agriculture nations

However..

This research only explored two communes within one large province. More research would help to strengthen the findings and a quantitative survey could help to understand if the same patterns are observed across Vietnam.

Reference this research

Ylipaa, Josephine, Sara Gabrielsson, and Anne Jerneck. (2019). ‘Climate Change Adaptation and Gender Inequality: Insights from Rural Vietnam’, Sustainability 11(10), 2805.

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