For Climate Finance to Work it Must Consider Women’s Land Tenure Rights

Wanjiku Margaret Wanjohi Climate Change, Economics, Land rights

Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals depends on tackling women’s land tenure insecurity in the Global South, writes Wanjiku Wanjohi, Oxfam in Africa’s senior gender advisor.

Joevetah (in red shirt) and Daniella (red headgear) harvesting cassava on FEMINET’s 14-acre farm in Port Loko.

The inter-relationship between land ownership and climate justice in low-income communities remains thoroughly unexplored.

In 2019, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change underscored that land tenure is a key dimension in understanding land-climate interactions. But despite obvious intersections, efforts to link food security and gender equality fell short at the COP28 Climate Summit last December. Only a minority of countries—68 of 198—endorsed the Gender-Responsive Just Transitions & Climate Action Partnership, which seeks to strengthen women’s and girls’ participation in climate action to drive strong outcomes in adaptation, mitigation, and financing.

More is needed. To respond effectively to the climate crisis, governments, communities, and individuals must make deliberate investments in natural resources. These investments must consciously aim to address the intersectional impacts of the crisis.

Women in the Global South shoulder the greater burden of the climate crisis, although exactly how much and why remains unclear. Indigenous women facing insecure land tenure and rights are particularly vulnerable to the unpredictable and multidimensional climate crisis, hindering their socio-economic development. For instance, women farmers constitute 43 per cent of the global agriculture workforce yet own only 20 per cent of the land. This translates to reduced bargaining power over use of the land and less access to public resources such as fertiliser subsidies and agricultural extension services.

Achieving certain milestones in the Generation Equality Forum and the Sustainable Development Goals depends on addressing land tenure rights. When women have weak land tenure security, the climate shocks against them become insurmountable for both households and communities. This systemically contributes to food insecurity and hampers women’s ability to implement mitigation measures such as water harvesting structures, planting trees or adopting agroecological farming practices that can boost production and protect and rehabilitate the environment.

For true gender-transformative climate transitions, especially in the Global South, there must be alignment of gender approaches, frameworks, and parameters.

Without secure access to and control over land, we are seeing that women are further excluded from emerging sources of climate support such as loss and damage payment. In Sri Lanka for instance, gaining membership in farmer societies which provide drought relief requires proof of land ownership.

As Oxfam has detailed, the four public climate finance mechanisms – Global Environmental Facility, Green Climate Fund, Climate Investment Fund, and the Adaptation Fund – have articulated gender considerations. However, for true gender-transformative climate transitions, especially in the Global South, there must be alignment of gender approaches, frameworks, and parameters. This alignment would be primarily characterised by clarity in gender milestones and differentiation in strategy in accordance with each context.

Climate financing in the Global South should shift from anecdotal to evidence-based practices. This climate finance system would prioritise the inclusion of women, youth and persons living with disability in decision-making platforms. Further, it would allow these demographics the opportunity to design and participate; thereby informing crucial evidence required for transformative policy.

The Gender-Responsive Just Transitions & Climate Action Partnership unveiled at COP28 is ambitious but faces funding gaps. Bridging these gaps is crucial in breaking down the structural barriers to gender equality.

Significantly, the amount of domestic and international public finance that is available to developing countries cannot sufficiently deliver the shared goal of the gender-responsive low-carbon climate resilient pathway it envisions. To advance gender transformative outcomes, global financing gaps would need to be bridged, resulting in a breakdown of the structural barriers in gender equality and other social-behavioral considerations. Oxfam has calculated that in Africa, a 36 per cent annual increase in private sector financing through to 2030 could pave the way to gender transformative climate justice. This is crucial for women who play a key role in supply and value chains, particularly, in agriculture.

To achieve effectiveness of climate finance in addressing the nexus of gender and climate justice, we should tap into the potential of women’s rights organisations in the Global South

In leveraging private sector financing, the needs of this group must be addressed with utmost specificity. In that scenario, climate-centered private sector financing in the Global South would prioritise issues such as land tenure rights and increased access to productivity-enhancing inputs, gender-responsive agroecological research and access to agro-climatic information.

The current trends in climate-centered private sector financing do little to advance a gender transformative and just climate transition for the Global South. The lack of an accountability framework for the International Sustainability Standards Board (ISSB) standards allows for optional adoption of the standards by the private sector, hindering progress for key demographics. This would be addressed through a harmonised private sector finance delivery model, tailored to regional circumstances – one that promotes accountability and inclusivity to the climate-marginalised.

Additionally, to achieve effectiveness of climate finance in addressing the nexus of gender and climate justice, we should tap into the potential of women’s rights organisations in the Global South. These organisations play an important role in strengthening land rights and land tenure across different contexts. Beyond the design phase, their close interaction with communities enables for a people-centric approach– recognising the diverse needs in tackling multidimensional challenges of land rights, agricultural productivity, and climate change.  

Discussions at COP28 highlighted the application of gender and environmental data to decision making. While timely, to achieve targeted impact from financing, future frameworks should emphasise clear-cut recommendations to strengthen feedback among research, data, intersectionality, gendered financing, and the role of women’s rights organisations in providing localised climate data.

Ultimately, negotiators, governments and private sector actors that fail to consider the magnitude of land tenure issues for women in the Global South in climate discussions are revealing their systemic ignorance of on-the-ground realities in climate vulnerable regions.

About the Author

Wanjiku Margaret Wanjohi

Wanjiku Margaret Wanjohi is Senior Gender Advisor at Oxfam in Africa

This blog was written with contributions from Eric Munoz, associate director for food systems at Oxfam America, and was originally posted on BusinessGreen.

Explore our collection of papers on Climate Change, including our 2023 Climate Finance Shadow report on Policy & Practice.