Integrating a climate and gender lens into services for rural women could help reduce the gender inequality gap and prevent them from being excluded from climate resilience initiatives. Factoring gender and climate considerations into the design of financial services like loans, credit and insurance – as well as non-financial services and practices such as new approaches to agriculture and energy management – can help pave the way for programs to fulfill their potential for impact.
As the first female-specific insurance product in South Asia, Green Delta’s Nibedita insurance has its eye on supporting rural women. The scheme is designed to meet the various insurance needs of women by bundling them into one product that provides both financial identity and financial relief during times of crisis. Women receive health and disability insurance, coverage for loss or damage from disasters such as typhoons, cyclones, windstorms and floods, and compensation for trauma from gender-based violence. A one-stop service is offered, as well as a digital resource platform which allows women to access skills and knowledge, financial services, emergency responses, and legal and medical advice – all of which support self-reliance.
As in the case of Nibedita, addressing the needs of rural women also means taking into account the effects of sociocultural norms and climate change. Service providers and development partners working at this intersection are the focus of a Dalberg project with CGAP – a global partnership of development organizations that works to advance the lives of poor people – that taps into the experiences and needs of rural women and offers guiding principles and recommendations for solutions.
More often than not, mainstream climate programs and climate financing lean towards gender negligence.
Findings show that a program like Nibedita is the exception, and that more often than not, mainstream climate programs and climate financing lean towards gender negligence. By failing to consider their unique challenges in program design, rural women are often excluded and thus cannot benefit from these support programs and finances. A group of women in rural India responded to climate change by reducing their land holding through crop diversification, and then failed to meet the stipulated acreage for PMFBY, a crop insurance scheme covering farmers against crop failure. The scheme stabilizes incomes and encourages innovative practices: without it these women remain unsupported and at risk in the event of a climate crisis.
Together with CGAP, Dalberg conducted two substantial literature reviews to examine the situations of rural women globally and uncover a range of solutions. These innovative practices can help lead the way towards positive change by leveraging digital tools, training and information, inputs, and labor-saving assets. In addition they can create access to laborers and markets, transport and logistics, post-harvest storage, and digital financial services – including credit, savings and insurance.
Tailoring products and services to the needs of rural women
Underlying the need for these services are the experiences of countless women in low and middle income countries, where agriculture is the primary activity of 79% of economically active women whose labor is a critical driver of the agricultural sector. These women remain largely unsupported by the formal financial and non-financial services that could help them manage climate risk. As a result, many continue to rely on their own informal savings and savings groups, which can have limitations in a crisis. Savings groups, for example, can lack the liquidity to meet demand for mass withdrawals in the event of climate shocks that affect entire communities.
For rural women to prepare for climate risks, as well as reduce, adapt and recover from them, programs and services need to be structured around their ability to access, adopt, and use such services.
Areas of opportunity for service providers include:
1. Increasing adoption through bundled services
“Bundling” formal financial services like savings and insurance with each other, or with non-financial services such as training, offers broader financial support for rural women, increases their confidence to invest in climate preparedness activities, and builds resilience. For example, in Sub-Saharan Africa, financial service providers created innovative products through bundling weather index insurance with microfinance, or using crop insurance to securitize the repayment of loans to increase insurance uptake. Bundling also lowers the average cost of customer acquisition for service providers, who can then serve the same customers with multiple products over time.
In another case, Kenyan farmers who purchase Bima Pima – an insurance product from ACRE Africa that loosely translates to ‘insurance in affordable portions’ – gain access to crop information, and seeds are bundled with an index insurance that protects their livelihoods and households from the risk of falling into poverty as a result of drought.
A mobile savings platform like myAgro enables farmers in Mali, Senegal and Tanzania, to put money away for climate smart agricultural inputs, including seeds, fertilizer, and training, using their mobile phones. Farmers save in small denominations – much like pre-paid mobile airtime vouchers – regularly depositing money into accounts managed on their phones, then use their funds to purchase inputs during planting season. In addition, myAgro provides climate-smart agricultural trainings and shares harvest-improving agricultural techniques tailored to specific regions and crops. Farmers can also access climate-smart agriculture machinery through their savings. Smallholders for example, can buy or rent a myAgro precision planter – a tool that automatically plants seeds at uniform, measured distances while micro-dosing the ideal amount of fertilizer to maximize plant growth.
Investment in customer research and careful choice of value chains and products, like poultry, that are highly relevant to women, make myAgro’s model beneficial for female farmers who often face barriers to finance and lack enough capital to purchase equipment and large quantities of seed and fertilizer. In this way, myAgro provides women with access to agricultural input markets that didn’t previously exist, delivering high quality seed and fertilizer on time so farmers can plant early and have larger harvests.
2. Development of digital tools
Digital ag-tech solutions are an important channel for climate-smart information, inputs, and markets – of which few users are women. This is driven by their lower access to mobile phones, higher levels of digital illiteracy, and distrust of new technologies. Only 25% of registered users of digital ag-tech solutions in Africa are female.
The potential for digital as a climate solution is vast: digital channels can reach more people faster, at a lower cost, and at the scale needed to address the climate emergency. It also lends itself to customization and can be tailored to the needs of rural women – which is essential for climate smart agriculture as it is highly context specific. Digital channels such as community radio, IVR, and SMS, deployed with human agents, can deliver services aligned with the typically lower technology capabilities of rural women, as well as their time and mobility constraints, which can be further stretched in response to climate events.
In Uganda, for instance, Keiphone uses short videos of successful farmers to help rural women improve agricultural practices and sell more of their products on the market. Similarly, in Bangladesh, rural women were made aware of an insurance scheme through street dramas and videos screened in accessible places within the community, and came away understanding how the scheme operates and how it supports climate resilience.
Through a combination of skills training and access to modern technology, many rural women farmers in Mali have exponentially more access to information and products. One service enabling a way into digital empowerment is UN Women’s “Buy from Women” mobile application, which provides rural women with a wide range of real-time, reliable information on markets, prices, vendors, weather, and soil quality. Since the program’s 2016 pilot in Mali, Rwanda and Haiti, it has shown to significantly increase productivity and sales, and in 2021 expanded to Costa Rica, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal, DR Congo and Cote d’Ivoire.
3. Expanding access to assets
Programs that promote the adoption of climate resilience practices – such as carbon credits for agroforestry or flood insurance schemes – sometimes exclude rural women by requiring legal land titles for registration, or defining eligibility criteria by the size of land farmed. A wide gender gap already exists around land tenure and ownership, with women rarely owning the land on which they farm. Without land titles, women do not qualify for certain schemes, and cannot offer it as collateral for others, such as credit and insurance products.
Flexible registration requirements can lower the barrier to entry for rural women. A weather index insurance provider in Bangladesh allowed the registration requirement of a land title deed to be flexibly applied in the case of landless farmers. With the help of a local microfinance institution, farmers were able to obtain a photocopy of their respective landlord’s title deed, and the insurance policy could be registered in the tenant’s name.
By combining technology and on-the-ground expertise, Meridia, a social venture that provides affordable land documentation, is able to unlock economic potential for women and smallholder farmers in Ghana and Indonesia by providing them with legal titles to their land. Land rights stimulate financial inclusion, increase farmer productivity up to 45%, and give women autonomy and almost four times more income. Meridia uses gender-adapted sensitization campaigns to increase awareness of potential and avoidable gender-related pitfalls in land rights documentation.
Women farmers are also less likely to own, use, or understand how to maintain mechanized equipment, and often lack the financial resources to purchase their own equipment, or the labor to operate it. Their needs tend to be neglected in the designing of tools – for instance when it comes to the size and weight of machinery – and in times of crisis, women that own such equipment are more likely to have to sell it to generate emergency liquidity. Creating repayment terms and premium payments that can be more flexible and tailored to climate vulnerable needs, is the approach from PEG, an asset finance company offering solar irrigation financing plans in Ghana. Their non-collateralized financing enables rural women to pay for the pump over a 17-month period, with flexible repayments that can be tailored to cropping cycles to allow for higher payments once the harvest is complete.
Engaging all actors
Given the high stakes for climate programs to scale and be sustainable, broad engagement is needed from all actors to increase financial inclusion and enable the wider adoption of climate-resilient practices by rural women. These include non-financial service providers such as buyers, input providers and digital providers; financial service providers including banks, microfinance institutions and insurance companies; and sector support organizations, policy makers, and funders.
The literature reviews are a start, and lay the foundation for better understanding the intersection between rural women, climate change and services. They also help identify where more detailed research is needed, in particular to provide solutions that address underlying gender negligence.