Integrated approaches: accelerating women’s contribution to food security, reducing deforestation and sustainable cities

Posted on: March 7, 2017

Senior Gender Specialist

Senior Gender Consultant


Burkina Faso
Life in arid countries like Burkina Faso is hard even for kids. Women and girls are the one fetching waters for the households. Changes in rainfalls and longer dry spells often force them to fetch water in wells far from their home.

Today, the GEF joins the global community in celebrating International Women’s Day.  It is an ideal time to reflect on GEF’s efforts to advance the role of women in environmental sectors worldwide. When the GEF adopted its Policy on Gender Mainstreaming in 2011, only a minority of projects considered gender issues. Now, just five years later, we are strengthening our efforts to address gender gaps across all of our programs and projects. Furthermore, we are working to deliver on positive synergies between improved environmental management and greater gender equality.

Our new Integrated Approach Pilots (IAPs) offer great examples of this shift in our approach to gender mainstreaming. With its three programs – Fostering Sustainability and Resilience for Food Security in Sub-Saharan AfricaSustainable Cities, and Taking Deforestation out of Commodity Supply Chains – GEF is testing the delivery of more integrated approaches to addressing global environment challenges.

Fostering Sustainability and Resilience for Food Security in Sub-Saharan Africa

Three women carrying buckets on their heads and walking by the road near Kasungu in Malawi.

Women make essential contributions to the rural economy across the African continent as farmers, laborers and entrepreneurs. Their roles are diverse and changing rapidly, but one fact is strikingly consistent: women have less access than men to agricultural assets, inputs and services and to rural employment opportunities.

Yet closing the gender gap in agriculture would generate significant gains for agriculture sector and society in Sub-Saharan Africa and globally.  If women had the same access to productive resources as men, they could increase yields on their farms by 20% – 30% and reduce the number of hungry people in the world by up to an incredible 17% [1].

Recognizing gender-specific differences in addressing food security and  sustainable management and resilience of ecosystems, this GEF pilot is  designed to contribute to the empowerment of rural women and men, and to increase rural women’s decision-making power and representation.

In Malawi[2], for example, the project will promote the equitable participation of women in natural resource governance.  Moreover, efficient stoves, reforestation and wood lots together with improved water availability from catchment conservation will reduce women’s workloads and time for firewood gathering and water collection. Time savings leave more space for better nutritional outcomes or for income generation that increases resilience. In Burkina Faso[3], over 200 environmentally friendly microprojects are set to benefit 5,000 women, and in Burundi[4] there will be a push to ensure as many women as possible in policy platforms. And another child project in Uganda is focused on increasing the resilience of female-headed households.[5]

Gender-sensitive and multiple-benefit value chains are part of this integrated program’s “theory of change.”

Taking Deforestation out of Commodity Supply Chains

Taru woman carrying wood to cook in Bardia, Nepal

Forests not only serve as an essential carbon reserve, they also provide livelihoods, subsistence and income for more than 1.6 billion of the global poor[6].  GEF knows that poor rural women are particularly dependent on forest resources for their subsistence, and they also have unique roles and knowledge of forest conservation. We also know that gender-differentiated needs, uses and knowledge of the forest are critical inputs to combating deforestation on the ground. Recognizing that to promote sustainable supply chains, women and men must both act as catalytic agents of change and as equal partners, this IAP started by carrying out a gender analysis of commodities responsible for some 80% of tropical deforestation worldwide including palm oil, soy and beef.

The analysis was an important starting point and led to the development of a program level gender strategy and action plan. The analysis also highlighted the need for targeted efforts to address knowledge gaps on gender and create opportunities for learning and engaging organizations with gender expertise.  This IAP’s child projects now have gender specific outputs and at the program level it is set up to monitor the number of program beneficiaries, disaggregated by gender based on the supply chain approach.

Sustainable cities

A Vietnamese woman sells coconuts on a street in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) at sunset.

Though cities occupy just 3% of our planet’s land, they account for up to 80% of energy consumption and 75% of carbon emissions.  Half of humanity lives in cities today and new migrants, many of them women, can end up in overbuilt slums, poorly connected to public transport or essential services such as clean water. Few have an opportunity to contribute to planning.  Yet cities can be only be sustainable and safe if they meet the needs of women as well as men, and if women have an equal voice in urban planning and development[7]. That’s why SDG 12 targets include the priorities and contributions of women in urban transport, disaster management, and green spaces.

Taken this into account gender and the environment are also intertwined in this IAP.  In South Africa[8], for example, one project is supporting the City of Johannesburg to adopt gender sensitive and resource efficiency guidelines for improved sustainability of social housing.  Working also to support urban farmers to implement more environmentally sustainable food security solutions this project is tracking the “number of men and women emerging farmers and city officials trained in and using sustainable and/or organic farming methods”.  These commitments together with other supporting actions are now captured in a gender action plan which to be monitored by a sociologist with gender expertise.

Meanwhile, the project in Viet Nam[9] is set to support existing GEF/ADB investments to promote climate resilience in Vietnamese cities. It plans to support the development of guidelines to support the participation of disadvantaged groups including women in prioritizing, planning, and implementation of urban infrastructure and services, community-led initiatives. All with a focus on women’s economic participation and decision making and to tracking process in a robust gender responsive monitoring & evaluation (M&E) framework.

Gender is deeply embedded in the socioeconomic fabric of these systems, and although actual impacts will emerge only later, all of these three programs showcase the benefits of identifying entry points for gender and social inclusion at the onset of program planning and design. And now in a cooperative manner, GEF Agencies, national governments and other partners including the private sector and civil society, have the opportunity to taking concrete and targeted actions to leverage the role of women in delivering important global environmental benefits.

As we are looking towards GEF-7 and devising impactful ways to address today’s unprecedented pressures on the environment, we will build on these kinds of approaches and the growing evidence that efforts to improve the health of our planet and combating gender inequality can be mutually supportive.


[1] State of Food and Agriculture 2010 – 2011: http://www.fao.org/docrep/013/i2050e/i2050e00.htm
[2] Project name: Enhancing the Resilience of Agro-Ecological Systems.
[3] Project name:  Fostering Participatory Natural Resource Management Project.
[4] Project name: Support for sustainable food production and enhancement of Food security and Climate Resilience in Burundi's Highlands.
[5] Project name: Fostering Sustainability and Resilience for Food Security in Karamoja sub region.
[8] Project name: Building a Resilient and Resource-efficient Johannesburg: Increased Access to Urban Services and Improved Quality of Life.
[9] Project name: Integrated Approaches for Sustainable Cities in Viet Nam.

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