Building women’s resilience and livelihoods

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Building women’s resilience and livelihoods

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At IFAD we know that the face of a farmer is often a woman’s face. Around the world today, women make up over half the people working in agriculture – as smallholders, market gardeners, wage labourers, unpaid workers on family farms – and that figure is on the rise. Nearly ten years ago in 2011, women were estimated to make up about 43 per cent of agricultural workers. Today the most recent figures from FAO put women at 50 per cent or more of the global agricultural workforce.

No fair shares

While women do half the work in agriculture, they don’t get a fair share of the assets, resources or services that farmers need to make a living.

Women are significantly less likely to own land: worldwide less than 15 per cent of agricultural land is registered under a woman’s name. And while 164 countries recognize their right to own, use and make decisions about land on equal terms with men – discriminatory customary laws mean that only 52 countries guarantee these rights in practice.

Worldwide, 56 per cent of adults without a bank account are women. In Africa, women receive less than 10 per cent of credit granted to smallholder farmers, making it extremely difficult for them to invest in improved inputs or technologies.

In low and middle-income countries worldwide, they are 10 per cent less likely than men to own a mobile phone, which excludes 184 million women from a vast and growing range of financial and non-financial services.

On top of all these interlocking disadvantages, and as a result of many of them, research shows that women are also significantly more vulnerable to the effects of climate change – one of the greatest threats of our time. According to the World Health Organization, women are more likely to die as a result of natural disasters such as droughts, floods and storms. Climate change-related environmental effects such as water scarcity increase the hours women and girls spend collecting household water and therefore add to their burden of labour. Agriculture – the sector in which the poorest rural women overwhelmingly work – is the hardest hit by the effects of climate change.

Together with partners, including the Platform for Agricultural Risk Management (PARM), IFAD is building capacity at country, community and farmer level to de-risk agriculture. As part of the Fund’s holistic approach to managing agricultural risks, insurance is a valuable tool. In line with its work on rural women’s empowerment and gender equality, IFAD has a particular focus on gender inclusive insurance that is accessible to women and meets their needs.

How insurance makes a difference

Strengthening the resilience of poor rural women and men – their capacity to cope with and recover from shocks – is a vital part of IFAD’s work. This is in line with SDG 1.5, which calls for countries to “build the resilience of the poor and those in vulnerable situations, and reduce their exposure and vulnerability to climate-related extreme events and other economic, social and environmental shocks and disasters”.

Inclusive insurance is an important tool that enables smallholder farmers and rural entrepreneurs to build their resilience and transfer their risk. But insurance does much more than this. Studies across a range of countries have shown that insurance development contributes to economic growth, providing financial stability, facilitating trade and commerce, mobilizing savings and enabling risk to be managed more efficiently.

For example, farmers with insurance are less ‘risky’ clients for microfinance institutions or banks and are therefore more likely to get loans and use the funds to build their businesses. Climate risk insurance can also be used to incentivize adaptation strategies, such as when insurance is bundled with drought-resistant seeds, encouraging farmers to adopt climate-smart production methods.

There are two ongoing IFAD technical assistance programmes focused on inclusive insurance: Insurance for Rural Resilience and Economic Development (INSURED) – financed by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), and Managing Risk for Rural Development: Promoting Microinsurance Innovations (MRRD). At the same time as enabling women and men farmers to strengthen their livelihoods, these programmes aim to create a sustainable market for insurers in rural areas, thereby boosting private and public investment in agriculture, driving rural growth and protecting progress in a high-risk environment.

Bridging the information gap on insurance for women

IFAD and the MicroInsurance Centre at Milliman (MIC@M) collaborated with a team of graduate students at the George Washington University (GWU) on research to address the information gap regarding the provision of climate risk insurance to rural women. The team carried out a global desk review and fieldwork in Ethiopia, with a focus on improving the delivery and value of climate risk insurance to women. They were supported by an advisory committee of industry experts, which included members from GIZ, IFAD, ILO, MIC@M, PARM, Women’s World Banking and WFP.

Key recommendations were made for public and private stakeholders involved in the design and implementation of insurance schemes:

  • Include potential women clients in the design process of insurance schemes, listen to their needs and constraints.
  • Appoint female professionals to insurance design and delivery roles to increase gender equality and build trust.
  • Look at the options to ‘bundle’ climate insurance with other products and services that benefit the whole household and take account of women’s priorities.
  • Communicate in ways that communities, and especially women, can relate to and understand. Use channels and intermediaries that they are familiar with and have confidence in.
  • Collect data that is disaggregated by sex to make sure lessons are learned about what works and what doesn’t in gender-inclusive climate risk insurance.
  • Invest in research that assesses how, why and when women and men access climate risk insurance and what makes them decide which insurance options to buy.

As part of the research, a gender checklist for the delivery of climate risk insurance was created. This is to enable insurers and those working with them to build up a context-specific understanding of women’s needs and priorities in connection with climate risk insurance. In this way, they can ensure that saleable, sustainable insurance schemes are developed to match those needs, and are then delivered in ways that make them accessible and attractive to women farmers as well as men.


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