Overcoming barriers to gender-responsive climate programming

Women and men face the same climate-related hazards, but often face very different risks and impacts in the dawn of climate shocks...


In many cases, these differential risks and impacts are connected to women’s roles in supply and value chains, their labour profiles, household responsibilities, and decision-making power. Women often have additional vulnerabilities, are more exposed, or have lesser adaptive and coping capacities due to access barriers, sociocultural differences, and other gender-specific challenges and constraints. They thus have different and greater needs for protection. Without identifying and incorporating gender-specific needs, vulnerabilities, challenges, constraints, capacities, and contributions into climate finance and insurance products and accompanying measures, climate and disaster risk finance and insurance (CDRFI) mechanisms cannot extend their reach in an effective, inclusive, and equitable manner. In a worst case, they may entrench existing structural inequalities and do more harm than good.

Not just an add-on

The above makes a clear case for gender considerations to be added to all steps of the project life cycle, from design to evaluation. Indeed, there is a consensus in both literature and among donors that gender equality outcomes are more likely if the intervention has a clear gender focus as well as an appropriate budget from the planning stage onwards. This should then also translate into the programme framework and the monitoring and evaluation (M&E) plan. Project and programme data needs to be collected as sex-aggregated data in order to understand the outcomes and impacts as well as to adjust programming to yield the expected results.

We undertook a mixed-method study to provide insights on the status quo of the gender-responsiveness of programmes and projects under the umbrella of the InsuResilience Global Partnership. Looking at a subset of programmes and projects, we found that many of them treat gender equality as a unique selling point rather than a necessity for the success of their insurance products. Despite this rather off-putting result, there were clear indications that the importance of including gender considerations in the design of insurance products was understood at a technical level and that adjustments were being envisaged.

With this in mind, however, we argue that simply looking at the way an insurance product can be made appropriate for women (i.e. in the application process, in the dissemination of information and in payouts) is not sufficient to generate sustainable change. Gender-responsive programming also needs to address gender relations and the distribution of power in order to impact the design and implementation in a way that sustainable change towards greater gender equality is triggered and supported.

Consider all areas

When applying gender-responsive programming, all barriers to gender equality need to be considered. Some barriers like social norms are invisible and more difficult to understand and change, while others like barriers for accessing education are easier to pinpoint but take an enormous effort to overcome (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Interlinked barriers in the Gender Quadrant Framework (based on the integral model by Ken Wilber, adapted by Gender@Work and the author)

Interlinking insurance products

Could an insurance product take into account all the pieces of the puzzle? Adding interventions to insurance products can include awareness campaigns or training sessions. But it could also encompass tailoring insurance products to the specific context they are embedded in.

Focusing on how to make a product accessible to women and other marginalised groups has the strong potential to secure a product’s financial sustainability. It is therefore critical to look at land ownership through the prism of a legal and a practical lens (i.e. what documents need to be provided, what inheritance laws and customs are there, and how can these be influenced, as well as access to dispute resolution mechanisms), considering mobility issuesand safe infrastructure for women (i.e. childcare, safe transport, easy access to learningand exchange facilities), or engaging with the typically male gatekeepers in a community with a view to changing social norms and  empowering women to take financial decisions.

It is also important to reflect on unwanted negative effects. There is some research that suggests that economically empowered women might run into an increased risk of intimate partner violence, as some men might use violence as a last resort to try and keep control. Programmes should carry out checks on the impact of their activities and payouts through impact-focused data collection. They may reduce the risk of doing harm from the outset by engaging with men and boys or by providing safe spaces for women.

Bringing everyone together

Donors and investors, for their part, need to make gender equality a priority and provide incentives, both in terms of clear requests for gender-responsive programming, and resources. Constant exchange and communication between all stakeholders – governments, donors, international organisations, NGOs and CSOs, as well as sector experts - can drive a harmonised approach that combines insurance products with other activities and checks what other stakeholders are doing in the same or related spaces.

An original version of this piece first appeared in the 2022 Annual Report of the InsuResilience Global Partnership. The study mentioned in the blog is available here.