Module 3 | Understand: Vulnerable groups and climate adaptation planning
Module 3

Understand: Vulnerable groups and climate adaptation planning

Introduction: Vulnerable groups and climate adaptation planning

This module will help you understand how climate change affects the most vulnerable people. It provides a tool, developed by CARE, for assessing how climate change affects people with different gender identities differently. It addresses the ways inequalities can impact resilience and demonstrates the need for inclusive climate action.

What will I learn in this module?

By the end of the module, you will:

  • Understand the links between climate change, poverty and gender.
  • Understand how climate change impacts people with different gender
    identities differently.
  • Have gained sound basic knowledge about facilitating a climate
    vulnerability analysis for local climate adaptation planning.

The below infographic provides a summary of the key content in this module:

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Warm Up

Warm Up

For those seeking in-depth studies, academic writing and guidance to take your understanding further.

Climate change, poverty and gender in Africa

Climate change risks and impacts are highly diverse and context specific. Different groups have different levels of vulnerability and capacity within and across populations and communities. Differences in gender, social status, wealth, ethnicity, natural resource base, and religion, among others, all affect people’s ability to adapt and are important aspects to understand and work with.

The extent to which adaptation actions are effective in helping households and communities adapt to climate change depends on the socioeconomic characteristics of the people targeted by the adaptation actions. These characteristics include age, gender, income and where they live. Most adaptation actions try to incorporate these. In this section, we explore gender to understand what it means, how it intersects with poverty, and how it affects adaptation.

Gender is a social construct. It defines what it means to be a man, woman, boy or girl, gender non-conforming, masculine or feminine in a society. Everyone has specific roles, status and expectations within households, communities and cultures that define their gender roles.
Gender roles vary within cultures and change over time.

Gender relates to, but is different from sex, which refers to the different biological and physiological characteristics of females, males, and intersex persons, such as chromosomes, hormones, and reproductive organs.

Gender inequality is one of the root causes of poverty. Climate change, in turn, is making poverty worse. This means that, for many women and girls living in poverty, the chances of achieving a better life are threatened by a double injustice: climate change and gender inequality.

Differences between gender equality, inequality and equity. 

  • Gender equality is the recognition that different genders have different needs and priorities and that all genders should experience equal conditions for realizing their full human rights and be able to contribute to, and benefit from, national, political, economic, social and cultural development.
  • Gender inequality acknowledges that people of different genders are not equal. Differences arise from psychology, perceptions, attitudes and cultural norms and beliefs.
  • Gender equity is the process of being fair to different genders. To ensure fairness, strategies and measures must often be employed to compensate for disadvantages that prevent the different genders from operating on a level playing field. Equity leads to equality.

Gender and poverty in Africa: women and girls bear the brunt.

  • Due to gender inequality, women are more likely to be poor than men. For every 100 men, aged between 25 and 34, living in extreme poverty in sub-Saharan Africa, there are 127 women.
  • In sub-Saharan Africa, boys are more likely to complete secondary school than girls. This means that girls are less likely to transition to formal employment.
  • In sub-Saharan Africa, where most of the world’s poorest live, the number of women and girls living in extremely poor households is expected to increase from 249 million to 283 million between 2021 and 2030. (Central and southern Asia will also see a resurgence of extreme poverty.)
  • When disaster strikes, women and children are 14 times more likely than men to die. Of the 230,000 people killed in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, 70% were women.iv Gender differences are directly linked to women’s economic and social rights. In societies where women and men enjoy equal rights, disasters have caused similar death rates in both sexes. These discrepancies are due to gender inequalities. Men and boys receive preferential treatment during rescue efforts and, following disasters, both women and girls suffer more from shortages of food and economic resources.
  • Following a disaster, women are more likely than men to be victims of domestic and sexual violence. They even avoid using emergency shelters for fear of being sexually assaulted.
  • Fetching water is often the responsibility of women. It has a disproportionate impact on women’s mental and physical health, as well as their income, since they have limited time to engage in other productive activities.

Climate change impacts women and men differently

For women and men, vulnerability to climate change can be a result of gender roles. There are gendered differences in responsibilities, household labor, how people use their time, and food security. There are also differences when it comes to access to, and control over, land, secure housing, money, information, credit, education and health – all of which are not readily accessible to women.viii Women are also more likely to be subjected to violence.

Social norms compound these constraints by restricting women’s freedom of movement, choice and voice. Water, energy and food shortages, caused in part by climate change, result in time-consuming labor as well as increased costs for women and girls because they have to travel further and pay more to collect these resources.

Women are often responsible for gathering water, food, and fuel, along with subsistence farming, caregiving, and cleaning. Most of these are made more challenging by climate change.

In rural Mali, for example, water scarcity is a growing challenge for women who often need to walk long distances to collect water. The cost of water during the dry season in these areas is 20–40 times more than in Mali’s major cities.

A woman carrying water buckets in Mali. Source: Curt Carnemark/World Bank.

Case studies from Ghana and Uganda show that one of the most significant social impacts of environmental stress in communities that rely on farming is that women’s work becomes more intense and poor households become poorer. This means the impacts of climate change will add additional burdens on women’s time. Already, women in rural areas are taking on more agricultural work as men migrate to cities in search of work.  

While climate change affects women disproportionately, actions that empower women can reverse poverty and unlock effective climate change solutions.

Age also impacts gender inequalities  

Besides sex, age also determines how gender inequalities are generated and how they impact different groups. Age and sex interact to create complexities in gender inequalities that need to be recognized and addressed when working on climate change adaptation 

For example, young people are likely to be excluded from adaptation activities, governance and policies due to their age. Some societies assume that they are either too young or lack the knowledge to engage in issues that affect their lives.  

In spaces where young people do have some agency, young women are unlikely to be represented. In certain communities, it is assumed that young women do not have the capacity or interest to engage in decision making about things that affect them. Instead, it is common that decision making about issues that affect young people is left to the elders, or young men.  

Climate change and gender: a double injustice

When thinking about climate justice, it is important to recognize the intersectionality of justice issues.

Intersectionality refers to how different social categorizations, such as age, gender and race, apply to groups and create systems that determine discrimination, inequalities and therefore vulnerability to climate change. Simply put, the way these social categorizations interact determines how society treats people that belong to them. This affects how different people experience the impacts of climate change.

For example, in certain communities, younger women or girls are more likely than older women in the same community to be assigned labor-intensive tasks. They may spend their time collecting water and firewood instead of going to school or doing jobs that generate income. This keeps them in a vulnerable position.

Globally, gender inequality is a root cause of poverty. Climate change, in turn, is making poverty worse and exacerbating unequal relations between women and men that have existed for generations. This means that, for many women and girls living in poverty, the chances of achieving a better life are threatened by a double injustice: climate change and gender inequality.

Women and girls must play a central role in responding to the climate crisis

While women and girls in many regions are hardest hit by the climate crisis, they also play a central role in developing creative and effective climate change solutions. Women and girls cannot be left on the sidelines. They must be supported to play an active role in climate change adaptation in their communities. 

At the same time, women’s meaningful participation in climate decision-making and negotiations needs to increase nationally and globally. Governments need to aim for gender parity, ensure that more women take leadership roles in government, and engage with women’s rights organizations on the frontlines of the climate crisis.

CARE’s Gender Equality Framework

Advancing gender equality to support climate change adaptation requires approaches that increase the capacity of women, girls and other vulnerable groups. These approaches need to build agency, change power relations, and transform the social structures that lead to gender-based discrimination and vulnerability. 

Men and boys need to be included in processes that challenge the norms that inform gender inequalities. To inform this approach, CARE uses a Gender Equality Framework (Figure 2). This framework acknowledges that approaches to empower women and girls must include engagement with men, boys and people of all/diverse genders.

Figure 1: CARE’s Gender Equality Framework, which focuses on building the agency of groups that are disadvantaged, changing relations, and transforming structures that contribute to gender inequality. Source: CARE, 2018.

A useful tool for understanding gendered vulnerability to inform local adaptation planning

To plan effective adaptation actions, it is important to use scientific climate information. However, the people living in affected areas hold valuable knowledge, about the climate and how it affects different people. They need to be consulted to inform and influence local policy.

CARE’s Climate Vulnerability and Capacity Analysis (CVCA) is a tool for understanding different vulnerabilities to climate change.

The CVCA helps those developing adaptation actions to gather community-level information and broader-level information (territorial, regional, national) to gain a locally specific understanding of vulnerability to climate change and what capacity already exists to cope with it.

The tool pays close attention to gender, ecosystem and governance issues. By exploring gender inequalities in the local context, the CVCA facilitates analysis of the gender-specific barriers, opportunities and options for increasing resilience through gender-responsive approaches to adaptation planning and implementation.

CVCA in Phongsaly, Lao. Source: Benjamin Pomerleau/CARE.

How to use the CVCA 

The CVCA Handbook guides you through the process of doing a CVCA. By following the handbook, you can identify adaptation actions tailored for different groups of people, at the community level or more broadly, to support communities in increasing their resilience to climate change. The Handbook can be used for community-level planning and action, awareness and advocacy campaigning and for project and program design (Figure 4).

Figure 2: The different uses of a CVCA. Source: CARE, 2019.

Steps in the CVCA process 

There are seven main steps in the CVCA process. These are shown in Figure 3. (The outputs of each step are shown in colored boxes. Possible uses of the CVCA are presented in yellow boxes). 

The steps do not have to be performed one after the other. In practice, some steps may take place concurrently. You may need to return to earlier steps to refine things as you get further along in the process. Note that these steps should be adapted based on when, how, and why you are using the CVCA. 

Figure 3: The CVCA process. Source: CARE, 2019.

Participatory tools used in the CVCA

As you will see, Step 4 of the CVCA process involves participatory research. This is where facilitators can engage community members in dialogue to learn about their experiences and gain their perspectives on climate change and its impacts on their community.

The CVCA Handbook includes details on various participatory tools, shown in Table 1. (For detailed guidelines, consult CARE’s Climate Change CVCA).

Table 1: Participatory tools to use during the CVCA process.

In Module 8 of this toolkit, you will learn about the process of developing a community adaptation action plan. Remember to come back to Module 3 and refresh yourself on the importance of including gender dimensions, engaging people of all gender identities, and using participatory tools. This will ensure that your adaptation actions support gender equality and promote the role of women, girls, and other vulnerable groups as key agents in the development of climate change solutions.

Heat Wave

Heat Wave

Deepen your understanding. Find links to supporting scientific research, important publications, and tools

Understanding gender and vulnerability to climate change

READ UNDP’s article on why responses to climate change are gender blind. It highlights how responses to climate change fail to recognize its differential impacts on different genders and the effects on those who are overlooked.

READ CARE’s introduction to gender basics to learn about the basic terms that are used in discussions on gender and climate change (e.g., the difference between gender and sex and the meaning of gender inequalities).

READ IUCN’s Disaster and gender statistics to learn about what research has found to reflect the gender inequalities between different genders during disasters.

READ an article from One Earth to learn Why women are key to solving the climate crisis.

READ CARE’s courses on climate and gender justice to learn about how climate justice and gender justice are linked and what is needed to implement gender-transformative and gender-responsive interventions.

READ about how gender impacts adaptation in this brief, Gender-Transformative Adaptation: From Good Practice to Better Policy, by CARE.

READ UNDP’s guide about the importance of youth participation in climate action and how to enable it.

WATCH the video Genderbread Cookie (7:14) to learn more about gender and how it differs from sex.

Tools for gender and vulnerability assessments

READ the CARE CVCA Handbook to learn how to conduct a Climate Vulnerability and Capacity Analysis (CVCA). It will give you a more detailed breakdown of the steps for doing a CVCA and how the findings can be used to inform policy and practice on climate change.

READ CARE’s introduction to CVCA, which is a course you can take to learn more about the CVCA and its applicability to understanding the differential impacts of climate change on people with different gender identities.

READ A step-by-step description of the CVCA from start to finish.

READ the training guide on gender and climate change research in agriculture and food security for rural development. It will give you pointers on how to conduct research on gender and climate change in the agricultural sector. The toolkit can also help you do research in any other sector that demonstrates high gender inequalities, such as fisheries, trade and others.

WATCH the video The CARE CVCA Tool in 2 min (2:40) to learn more about the CVCA.

WATCH the video The double injustice of climate change and gender inequality (12:42). The video will introduce you to how social norms generate gender inequalities. You will also learn about the difference between gender and sex, and how gender inequalities spread across age and sex.

Bright Spark

Bright Spark

Read case studies, watch videos, and listen to podcasts about young climate leaders to get fired up for your own climate change actions!

Case studies

Communities Care in Somalia and Sudan 

The Communities Care project by UNICEF in Somalia and Sudan challenged the gender norms around gender-based violence through peer-facilitated dialogue. In this project, communities came together to discuss and understand the drivers of gender inequalities that caused gender-based violence against women. These dialogues helped the communities towards an increased awareness about gender-based violence and enabled them to have an intergenerational conversation about the harmful impacts of this type of violence. Young people and adults had conversations about norms and behaviors that exacerbated such violence and identified ways of eliminating these norms and behaviors.

Blue Ventures supporting fishing women in Comoros 

Blue Ventures is working with fisherwomen in Comoros to help them progress and make more value from their fisheries. The women work through a local association made up of women from three villages who fish for octopus, shells and fish on reef flats while also working to preserve and manage the marine resources that provide them with this fishing livelihood. The women have since learned about fish and octopus preservation techniques such as salting, drying and smoking. 

Gender in climate-smart agriculture in Mali

In 2017, a UN Women-led program called Agriculture Femmes et Dévelopement Durable (AgriFed) partnered with Groupe d’Animation Action au Sahel, a local non-governmental organization in Mali, on a project to help women improve their crop yield, income and wellbeing. The project worked with women farmers to modernize their farming techniques, which strengthened livelihoods and increased income. Read about the case study (p.44) 


WATCH The Challenges and Opportunities of Addressing Gender-Based Violence in Africa (51:27). It is a recording of a webinar where Naana Otoo-Oyortey, a young person and activist, shares the importance of young feminist leadership and strengthening African women’s voices in the movement to eliminate gender-based violence.

WATCH this video recording of young people from Africa talking about The Role of African Youth in Gender-Based Violence Movements (1:05:25). They discuss the power of activism and advocacy, but also the importance of solidarity by helping survivors of gender-based violence.

WATCH the video Young African Leaders Initiative Town Hall (1:12:02), which features a speech by former US President Barrack Obama to African young people. Obama challenges young people to rise up and address the challenges of today through empowerment and leadership.

WATCH the video of Manon Giovinazzo (2:12), a Girls Education Specialist in UNICEF Djibouti. Manon Giovinazzo is 26 years old and arrived in Djibouti to join UNICEF as a Girls Education Specialist. She notes how her work has helped her change and deepen how she understands the educational gap between boys and girls.

WATCH this video of Mariam Mmbaga (1:40), an African Union Youth Volunteer at UNICEF Nairobi. Mariam says that ensuring equal access to opportunities for boys and girls requires the involvement of boys and men.

Cool Down

Cool Down

Your last stop. Here, you have space to test your knowledge (with a short quiz) and consider how you can apply what you have learned to your own climate action.

Test your understanding

You have learnt a lot and have many red hot ideas. Test your knowledge with a quiz and give yourself space to cool down and reflect on what you have learnt. Use this section to take stock of how you will put your skills into action.

1 / 5
True or false? Due to gender inequalities, women are more likely to be poor than men.
Correct answer: a) True

Explanation: Gender inequality is one of the main causes of poverty. Women are more likely to be poor than men. For every 100 men, aged between 25 and 34, living in extreme poverty in sub-Saharan Africa, there are 127 women.

2 / 5
For women and girls living in poverty, the “double injustice” threatening their chances of achieving a better life refers to the combination of which two elements: 
Correct answer: d) Gender inequality and climate change

Explanation: Gender inequality is one of the root causes of poverty. Climate change, in turn, is making poverty worse. This means that, for many women and girls living in poverty, the chances of achieving a better life are threatened by a double injustice: climate change and gender inequality. 

3 / 5
What is gender equality?
Correct answer: a) Equal rights, responsibilities and opportunities for women and men (and all genders).

Explanation: Gender equality is the recognition that different genders have different needs and priorities and that all genders should experience equal conditions for realizing their full human rights and can contribute to and benefit from national, political, economic, social and cultural development.

4 / 5
Fill in the gap. According to CARE's Gender Equality Framework, to be gender transformative, Community-Based Adaptation should focus on building agency, transforming structures and …...
Correct answer: c) changing relations

Explanation: Changing relations enables people to relate differently, which is important for how society defines gender norms and addresses gender inequalities. For example, this could include training women and girls in leadership and gender equality while at the same time creating structured spaces where men and boys can be engaged to reflect on masculinities, gender, power, and privilege in their lives and the role of women as actors and decision-makers within communities.

5 / 5
CARE’s CVCA Handbook can be used for three main activities. Which combination of activities is correct:
Correct answer: a) Community-level planning and action, awareness and advocacy campaigning, project and program design

Explanation: The CVCA Handbook guides you through the process of doing a CVCA. By following the handbook, you can identify adaptation actions tailored for different groups of people, at the community level or more broadly, to support communities in increasing their resilience to climate change. The Handbook can be used for community-level planning and action, awareness, and advocacy campaigning and for project and program design.

You have now completed this module

Your quiz score is 0 correct answers out of 5 questions.

Reflect and prepare for your climate adaptation action

Consider the following questions about gender and climate change.

  • What are some of the norms and beliefs that have contributed towards causing gender inequalities in your community or country? Which groups have been impacted by these inequalities? How have they been impacted?
  • What do the gender inequalities mean for how people with different gender identities can engage in climate adaptation action?
  • How can you, as a young person, contribute to ensure that people of any gender can equally engage in climate adaptation action?