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Gendered Responses to Drought in Yunnan Province, China

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Gendered Responses to Drought in Yunnan Province, China

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Vulnerability to and perceptions of climate change may be significantly affected by gender. However, in China, gender is rarely addressed in climate adaption or resource management strategies. This paper demonstrates the relevance of gender in responses to climate change in the mountainous province of Yunnan in southwest China. Based on surveys undertaken during a record-breaking drought, the paper explores how women and men in a village in Baoshan Prefecture differ in their perceptions of and responses to drought, and how the changing roles of women and men in the home and the community are influencing water management at the village level. Our results show that despite the increasingly active role of women in managing water during the drought, they are excluded from community-level decision-making about water. The paper argues that given the importance of gender differences in perceptions of and responses to drought, the lack of a gender perspective in Chinese policy may undermine efforts to support local resource management and climate adaptation.
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Gendered Responses to Drought in Yunnan
Province, China
Yufang Su
1,2,3
*, Suman Bisht
2
, Andreas Wilkes
4
, Neera Shrestha Pradhan
5
, Yahui Zou
2
, Song Liu
3
, and Kevin Hyde
1
* Corresponding author: suyufang@mail.kib.ac.cn
1
School of Science, Mae Fah Luang University, Chiang Rai 57100, Thailand
2
Yunnan Academy of Social Sciences, Kunming 650034, Yunnan, China
3
World Agroforestry Centre, East and Central Asia Regional Office, Kunming 650201, Yunnan, China
4
Values for Development Ltd, 84 York Road, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, IP33 3EQ, United Kingdom
5
International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, GPO Box 3226, Kathmandu, Nepal
Ó2017 Yufang Su et al. This open access article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://
creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/). Please credit the authors and the full source.
Vulnerability to and
perceptions of climate
change may be
significantly affected by
gender. However, in China,
gender is rarely addressed
in climate adaption or
resource management
strategies. This paper demonstrates the relevance of gender in
responses to climate change in the mountainous province of
Yunnan in southwest China. Based on surveys undertaken
during a record-breaking drought, the paper explores how
women and men in a village in Baoshan Prefecture differ in
their perceptions of and responses to drought, and how the
changing roles of women and men in the home and the
community are influencing water management at the village
level. Our results show that despite the increasingly active role
of women in managing water during the drought, they are
excluded from community-level decision-making about water.
The paper argues that given the importance of gender
differences in perceptions of and responses to drought, the lack
of a gender perspective in Chinese policy may undermine
efforts to support local resource management and climate
adaptation.
Keywords: Drought; gender analysis; climate change;
responses.
Peer-reviewed: June 2016 Accepted: November 2016
Introduction
Climate change is expected to increase the incidence of
climate hazards in mountain areas (Kohler et al 2010).
Mountain people’s vulnerability to these hazards is
mediated by their exposure and sensitivity to specific
hazards, their access to resources, and their capacities and
opportunities to respond and adapt (Neumayer and
Plumper 2007). Since these factors may all be strongly
influenced by gender relations, there may be differences
in the vulnerability of men and women to climate hazards.
Through an analysis of gendered responses to drought in
a mountain community in Yunnan Province in southwest
China, this paper demonstrates the relevance of
understanding gender-differentiated perceptions of and
responses to droughts as an approach to developing
gender-sensitive adaptation strategies.
Physical and social vulnerability to climate change in
mountain areas
Mountains have important effects on global climate and
hydrological cycles (Beniston et al 1996). Physical
characteristics such as elevation, latitude, and topography
shape mountain climates and ecosystems differently in
different locations. Topographical variability and lack of
sufficient physical observations are major impediments to
reliable projection of climate change impacts in mountain
areas (Rangwala and Miller 2012). However, available
evidence suggests that the incidence of extreme climate
events is likely to increase in many mountain regions
(Kohler et al 2010; Field et al 2012).
The physical features of mountain regions also shape
socioeconomic processes that affect mountain people’s
vulnerability to the impacts of climate hazards (Jodha
2005). Their relative remoteness increases the cost of
access to physical goods and information, socioeconomic
marginality may limit their access to income generation
opportunities, and limited control of resources may
increase resource scarcity. Mountain peoples’
vulnerability to climate hazards is a product not only of
biophysical processes but also of economic, cultural, and
social relations (Neumayer and Plumper 2007).
Therefore, in addition to improved understanding of
biophysical processes associated with climate hazards, it
is vital to evaluate related social processes (Adger et al
2005).
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An international, peer-reviewed open access journal
published by the International Mountain Society (IMS)
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Systems knowledge
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Gender, climate change, and climate hazards
The importance of gender’s impact on vulnerability to
climate hazards and on adaptive capacity is increasingly
recognized (Paolisso et al 2002; Nelson and Stathers 2009;
Olsson et al 2014). Social structures and norms and
unequal gender power relations lead to gender-
differentiated vulnerability: for example, where women
have limited access to resources and a limited role in
decision-making, their responses to climate stresses are
constrained (Jin et al 2015). Previous studies have found
that women are therefore often more vulnerable to the
negative effects of climate change than men (Neumayer
and Plumper 2007; Olsson et al 2014).
Women’s greater vulnerability and more limited
response options give them different perspectives on
adaptation. The decisions women make to cope with
climate changes, the risks they take, and the climate-
related information they seek differ from those of men
(Nursey-Bray 2015). This is related in part to gendered
differences in access to support networks, information,
and participation in decision-making, which are
constrained by the often unequal power dynamics
between men and women (Carr 2008).
In particular contexts, gender may also interact with
other markers of identity and dimensions of inequality,
such as age, ethnicity, or social class, so women’s
experiences of climate stresses are not homogeneous
(Carr and Thompson 2014; Olsson et al 2014; Bhattarai et
al 2015). For example, poor women are especially
vulnerable to climate impacts, because of their
dependence on natural resources for their livelihoods and
because they often face difficulties in accessing shelter
and health care.
Because women in mountain areas also face different
climate-hazard-related challenges and response options,
better understanding of mountain women’s responses to
climate variability and climate change and the effects of
gender on responses to climate hazards is important for
developing gender-sensitive adaptation strategies in
mountain areas. Although gender awareness plays a role
in participatory approaches to disaster mitigation and
preparedness (Sohrabizadeh et al. 2014), gender is not
widely used as an analytical approach to conduct disaster
research. Without an in-depth study using gender as a
central analytical element, differentiated responses to
hazards (Stehlik et al 2000) and gender-differentiated
roles in household and natural resource management will
not be discernable (Dankelman and Jansen 2010).
Drought in China
The frequency of drought in China has increased over the
last 50 years (Yu et al 2015). It is projected that climate
warming will increase drought frequency and duration in
many parts of the country due to evaporation, with the
highest risk in the mountain areas of southwest China
(Wang and Chen 2014). Yunnan Province, where 94% of
the land area is classified as mountainous, was affected by
a persistent drought from fall 2009 through 2012, with an
estimated return period of greater than 80 years (Wang
and Meng 2013). According to the data from the China
Meteorological Data Service Center (CMDSC 2016),
precipitation from 2009 to 2012 in Kunming, the
provincial capital, was substantially (from about 11.4% to
42.3&) below the long-term average (Figure 1). By the end
of 2012, the drought had affected millions of people and
livestock, and there were about 4.2 billion RMB of
agricultural losses in Yunnan (Lu et al 2012; Zhou and
Yang 2013). Anomalies in atmospheric circulation
patterns were among the direct causes of decreased
precipitation and increased evaporation during the
drought period (Lu et al 2011; Lu et al 2012). In response
to the tangible effects of climate change and the
likelihood of more extreme weather events in future,
national and provincial governments have announced
new policies and governance mechanisms for drought
response (Xinhua Net 2012) and for climate change
adaptation (NDRC 2013; YDRC 2016). None of these gives
special consideration to gender.
Gender in rural China
Off-farm employment and large-scale short- and long-
term migration from rural to urban areas have been
major drivers of economic growth in rural China (Zhang
and Song 2003). While men and younger women often
work off-farm, many middle-aged women remain in rural
areas (Mu and Van de Walle 2011). In mountain
communities in China, short- and long-term migration
has made significant contributions to household income
growth. Increasing off-farm employment may also be
related to low levels of investment in agricultural
infrastructure (Liu and Ma 2006). Simultaneously,
agricultural labor has become increasingly feminized, and
FIGURE 1 Annual anomaly precipitation in Kunming (2009–2012). (Data
source: China Meteorological Data Service Center, http://data.cma.cn/site/
index.html).
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overwork has been found to impact women’s health and
welfare (Mu and Van de Walle 2011). Despite their
increasing share of agricultural labor input, women
receive a lower share of crop sale income than men, and
their decision-making power in household farming
enterprises and in community resource management
remains limited (De Brauw et al 2008). Additionally,
despite the important role of women in water
management for household and agricultural use, rural
water management policies pay little explicit attention to
gender (Lu 2009; Tong et al 2017), and water management
often remains male dominated (Lu 2008; Ge et al 2011;
Tong et al 2017). The effects of changing gender roles in
agriculture may further be exacerbated by the relative
inaccessibility of social services and lack of infrastructure
investment in these areas (Lu and Cai 2009; Wu et al 2015).
As a consequence, gender is an important contextualizing
factor that is rarely explicitly addressed in Chinese
national policies and plans related to agriculture, water
management, or climate change.
Gaps in gender analysis on water shortage responses
Understanding vulnerability to extreme events and
developing strategies to support adaptation can be
promoted through gender analysis (Cannon 2000;
Demetriades and Esplen 2008). In particular, studying
local perceptions of climate change and how they are
embedded in cultural and socioeconomic contexts,
including gender, can improve understanding of the
impacts of climate events on particular categories of
people and the factors that influence different social
groups’ responses to these events (Berkes and Jolly 2002;
Byg and Salick 2009). Documenting local perceptions of
climate change can also help policy-makers understand
the experiences of mountain people and their needs for
support in responding to risks posed by climate variability
and climate change (Laidler 2006).
In this paper, we explore gender-differentiated
perceptions of, impacts of, and responses to drought in
Yunnan, with a focus on agricultural practices and
household water use. We explore gendered roles at the
household and community levels and their influence on
men’s and women’s responses to water scarcity. We argue
that understanding gender-differentiated perceptions of
and responses to drought is key to developing gender-
sensitive strategies for adaptation to climate change in
Yunnan.
Study area
Yunnan Province is topographically, ecologically, and
ethnically diverse and spans temperate, subtropical, and
tropical climatic zones. Over 56% of Yunnan’s 47.4
million people (including 26 ethnic minority groups) are
rural dwellers, and more than 53% are employed in
agriculture (YDHRSS and SBY 2016). Yunnan is home to
the second-largest poor population in China, with more
than 5.74 million people living below the national poverty
line at the end of 2014 (Yunnan Net 2015) and an average
per capita GDP of US$ 4611 in 2015 (SBY 2016).
Yunnan’s topographic diversity and its location at the
junctions of the East Asian and South Asian monsoons
results in a complex climate. Although it has the third
largest endowment of water in China, its water resources
are unevenly distributed, with several highly populated
areas classified as water-scarce (Li and Li 2012). Since the
late 1980s, the frequency of spring and summer droughts
in Yunnan has increased, and since 2000 there has been a
decreasing trend in precipitation across the province
(Cheng and Xie 2008). The 2009 drought was preceded by
another major drought in 2005, which was estimated to
have a return period of 50 years (Cheng and Xie 2008).
As part of an international research project on water
management and climate change in the Himalayas
(Pradhan et al 2012), this paper uses data from Haitang
village (Figure 2) and is based on field surveys conducted
in 2012 after 3 consecutive drought years.
Haitang village lies at 2473 m (N 25.27, E 99.30) and has
an average temperature of 12.28C and average annual
rainfall of 1200 mm. As of 2014, it was home to 365
households with a population of 1581 (808 men and 773
women), divided into 6 villager groups (Yunnan Digital
Village Network 2014). The mountains surrounding the
village have high forest cover (1105 ha), and forest
products (eg matsutake mushrooms, timber, pine nuts,
and walnuts) are important sources of income, along with
Sichuan peppers, tobacco, livestock, and off-farm work.
Per capita arable land is very limited (0.073 ha/person);
corn and barley are mainly used as livestock feed and for
domestic consumption. Since agriculture in Haitang is
rain-fed and thus less productive than in other areas,
many households have diversified their livelihoods, and
men in particular have become more engaged in seeking
off-farm work. Over 70% of men engage in migrant labor,
returning during the farming season or for festivals or
important family events. Haitang is 11 km from the
nearest market by gravel road and an hour by car from the
prefecture seat in Baoshan.
Haitang is governed by a village committee and a
village party committee. The village committee is elected
directly by villagers and is led by a director with 1 deputy
director and 5 members, of whom one is a woman. The
village party committee is led by a director and a deputy
director, who are nominated by the party members and
report to the township government. There are 72 party
members, of whom 11 are women. All the heads of the
villager groups are men. There is a women’s group in the
village, but they are not involved in community decision-
making. All data came from these study participants.
There are 2 major water resources in Haitang: Dragon
Pond and Xiangshui Pond. Two of Haitang’s 6 villager
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groups are located upstream of the village’s water sources,
so they depend more on timber and non-timber forest
products than on agriculture for their livelihoods. The
rest are downstream and focus on tobacco and grain
production.
Water for agriculture
Haitang has very few irrigation facilities; 92% of
agricultural land is rain-fed. While the village receives
sufficient rainfall during the monsoon season (June–
October), it experiences annual water shortages during
the dry season (February–May). Some villagers have small
ponds and streams near their fields, which fill during the
rainy season and can be used for watering crops or trees
(manually or using pumps) during spring cultivation, but
these have been drying up quickly after October since the
2009 drought, which affected agricultural production.
Therefore, some households, especially from the 2
upstream communities have planted walnut and alder, as
well as a medicinal plant called dry grass, as these do not
require much labor, are drought tolerant, and are fairly
lucrative. Beyond these, only a few agricultural crops are
planted in Haitang due to the area’s limited water
availability.
Water for domestic use
In the past, during the dry season, women (and less often
men) would fetch drinking water for use by villagers and
their livestock. It would take them 10–40 minutes with the
distance to the nearest water source varying from 0.5 to 3
km, depending on the location of the household. But by
2007, with support from government and a Hong Kong
company, Haitang had built 9 tanks to supply drinking
water. As a result, most households have piped water and
small water tanks in their homes, which has saved a great
deal of labor, especially for women. This has afforded
FIGURE 2 Map of the study site. (Map by Mingcheng Wang and Huafang Chen at Kunming Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences)
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some women the time and water resources to grow extra
vegetables and cash crops in home gardens and on nearby
land. Some households have also installed flush toilets and
solar-heated showers. Sanitary conditions have therefore
improved, and some women even use washing machines
rather than washing clothes by hand in local ponds.
However, in recent years, households have experienced
shortages in water for domestic use, and they once again
have to fetch water during the dry season.
Water management
There is no water management system in place for
agriculture, as there are very few irrigation channels.
There is, however, a domestic water system, and the heads
of the villager groups (all of whom are men) are
responsible for its management and repair. With nearly
100 households each, both of the 2 upstream groups have
hired an extra person—both men—to help manage the
water system.
The upstream villager groups pump and store water in
tanks before piping it to individual households. In 2005,
during the dry season, the village was able to release water
once every other day. From 2006 to 2009, this was reduced
to once every third day, and during the following 3 years
to once every fourth day. However, downstream
households got their water first, meaning they were able to
take and store more water while people upstream were
left with shortages, leading to conflicts. Therefore, even if
water is provided according to availability during the dry
season, the group heads oversee daily water allocation to
try to ensure that people do not misuse water. The village
committee also plans to build a larger tank to increase
water storage capacity.
Methodology
The fieldwork conducted in 2012 assessed and
documented gender differentiation in (1) perceptions of
the causes of water shortages, (2) water use, (3) the impacts
of water shortage on livelihoods and domestic water use,
(4) responses to water stress, and (5) the role of local and
government institutions in helping community members
address their water-related concerns. It aimed to
understand the processes that make different sections of
the community more or less vulnerable to water stress and
the manner in which they do or do not respond to it. The
assessment was mainly qualitative (eg focusing on people’s
perceptions and narratives), but it was complemented by
quantitative data wherever possible.
First, a semistructured in-depth questionnaire was
used to conduct 31 individual interviews (with 14 women
and 17 men) in different households. The questionnaire
focused on water availability, access to and management
of communal water resources, conflicts over water,
perceptions of recent changes in climate and water
resources, possible causes of drought, the impact of water
stress on household water consumption and agricultural
practices, and actions taken to mitigate water stress.
Second, 2 focus group discussions were held, one for
each sex. The women’s group included the leader of the
village’s women’s group, a representative of the village
committee, and 4 farmers from different villager groups.
The men’s group included the village committee leader,
the head of a villager group, and 6 farmers from different
villager groups. Each focus group discussion began with
participatory mapping of water resources in the village,
followed by discussions of challenges related to water
collection and management for agricultural and
household use.
Third, key informant interviews were conducted with
the head of the women’s group of Haitang and the water
manager of 1 of the villager groups. These interviews
focused on water management in the community, which
included a specific focus on government support,
common issues, and the role of women in village-level
decision-making.
Statistical analysis was performed on questionnaire
responses using a permutation test, where dependent
values were shuffled 1000 times in relation to independent
variables and the distribution of a test statistic under a
null hypothesis was generated. The Pvalue was obtained
based on the ranking of the real test statistic among the
shuffled test statistics. All possible independent indicators
and questions were tested using the R 3.0.1 software
environment for statistical analysis (R Core Team 2014).
This method of analysis allowed us to generalize key
results despite a small sample size.
Results
Gendered perceptions of water availability
Water shortages in Haitang were experienced before the
2009–2010 drought. As one water manager said:
I think the problem of water shortage was not so serious in 2005
[also a drought year], but the situation has continuously deteriorated
since 2006. The recent 3 years [2009–2011] are the worst years
since I started work. In 2005, the village could release water every
other day and the situation was not so bad. From 2006 to 2009,
water could generally be released once in 3 days. However, in last 3
years, we could only release water every 4 days.
About three-quarters of the interviewees also stated
that water availability was declining. This trend meant
that villagers had to travel farther to access water for
manual irrigation of crops and trees. Most farmers
interviewed in 2012 estimated that these water sources
would only suffice for 4 months, and that tap water had
been sufficient for a mere 6 months in the previous year.
The rest of the year, household members had to collect
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water from the nearest water source to supplement the
limited tap water.
Concerning the likelihood of future drought, in
general, women were more optimistic than men (Table 1).
Men and women saw a range of reasons for declining
water availability (Table 2). About a quarter of women and
a third of men attributed it to decreased rainfall during
the monsoon season. Women were more likely than men
to note changes in the number of rainy days and the
timing of rainfall, and members of both groups attributed
it to human activities in the mountains. (About a quarter
of women pointed to the construction of a railway line
that cut across the main water stream serving the village,
and one man noted that road construction in the village
had silted up several small ponds and streams.) About a
quarter of women and a fifth of men blamed nearby
tobacco cultivation, as cloud seeding has been employed
to reduce rain and prevent hail from damaging the crop.
Thus, water shortages were attributed not only to natural
factors such as decreased rainfall, but also to human
activities affecting the mountain environment.
Agricultural water use
As mentioned earlier, there is no irrigation management
system in Haitang because there are no permanent water
sources for irrigation. Men and women made similar
estimates of the impact of water shortages on agricultural
production, with about half of each noting a decline in
yields and changes in crop types.
Men and women in Haitang reported using different
strategies to cope in the short term with the shortage of
water for agriculture during the drought in 2009–2010
(Figure 3A). Just under half of men reported simply
waiting for the rain, and just under a fifth reported
transporting water to water their crops. For women, the
preferences for coping strategies were reversed. Just
under half reported that they transported water to their
crops, and under one fifth claimed to be simply waiting
for rain. Some women, but no men, reported changing
their farming arrangements, such as decreasing the
cultivated area and adjusting the timing of planting. In
general, women actively engaged with more immediate
responses to drought than men.
As the drought continued, men and women showed
further differences in their longer-term responses (Figure
3B). After successive low crop yields, 15% more women
considered shifting into forestry and animal husbandry.
Both men and women considered engineering measures
to enable crop irrigation, but more men considered
digging ponds or wells, while more women considered
building water tanks and renting or buying pumps.
Seventeen percent more men still said that they had no
plan for adaption; 6% more men than women sought
government support.
Changes in cropping patterns and reduced production
due to the drought meant smaller harvests and less
produce available for sale. Most young men and a few
young women thus turned to seasonal migration for work
as their main income source. Men’s outmigration
indirectly affected the women who stayed behind. It
increased their share of agricultural work, including
TABLE 1 Expectations regarding future drought.
a)
Expectations Men (n¼17) Women (n¼14)
Less drought 0%14%
More drought 59%29%
Uncertain 41%57%
a)
Source: 2012 field survey.
TABLE 2 Perceptions of the causes of water shortages.
a)
Main causes Detailed causes
Men
(n¼17)
Women
(n¼14)
Environmental changes Less rain 32%22%
Limited water source 9%11%
Deforestation and land reclamation 3%0%
Human activities Railway construction in lower area 9%26%
Road construction in the village 3%0%
Nearby tobacco plantation 18%26%
Socioeconomic changes Population growth 15%7%
Livestock increase 3%0%
Physical conditions High elevation of villages 9%7%
a)
Source: 2012 field survey. Drought is a complex issue that may have many contributing factors; therefore, individual
respondents reported one or more causes of drought.
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manual irrigation of crops, adding to the burden on their
time and energy. Failing agricultural production also
made women more dependent on remittances from
migrating household members.
Domestic water use
All women stated that the element most affected by the
drought was drinking water. As one woman said: ‘‘If there
is no water for the land, we can survive with remittances
from our husbands who work as migrant laborers outside
the village. But how can we survive without drinking
water?’’ In focus group discussions, women collectively
agreed that collecting drinking water is difficult almost
half of the year (February to July), and fetching water
takes more than 20 minutes at a time. Women estimated
that on average they carried 6 buckets of water each day
from the nearest source to meet household demand.
Both men and women (more than half) stated that
collecting water was their immediate response to lack of
drinking water. However, men and women differed in
terms of who they believed was responsible for responding
to water shortage on a daily basis (Table 3): more men saw
it as a man’s job to respond by gathering additional water,
and more women saw it as a women’s job. More detailed
discussions revealed that traditional gender roles were
perpetuated in the way that ‘‘gathering water’’ was defined
in each focus group. Men understood gathering water to
mean looking for new sources of water as old sources dry
up, which is their main responsibility, while the actual
carrying was primarily women’s responsibility (Figure 4A).
In this situation, the men believed that they were the
person responsible within the household for coping with a
domestic water shortage; however, women’s daily labor
increased more substantially than men’s although they
were not seen as the person responsible for the additional
task. However, as the distance to water sources increased,
women needed help to fetch water. Men would provide
this assistance, carrying water on motorcycles, mules, or
trucks. Women whose husbands and sons were working
outside the village depended on support from neighbors
and relatives to collect water for domestic use. About half
of the men indicated that men dominated household
decision-making, while only about one fifth of the women
confirmed that this was the case. In general, over 50% of
both men and women stated that transporting water was
their preferred coping strategy. All other strategies
received less than 15% support.
As the drought continued, a variety of longer-term
responses were adopted. Engineering responses, including
constructing larger water tanks, ponds, wells, pipes, and
water-harvesting facilities, were reported by about a third
of men and women. The government provided funds or
materials to several households to implement these
measures. More women than men mentioned
nonengineering responses, such as water transportation,
while a few men and women reported taking measures to
FIGURE 3 Responses to shortages of water for agricultural use: (A) short term; (B) long term.
TABLE 3 Perceived responsibility for collecting water.
a)
Men
(n¼17)
Women
(n¼14)
Men 51.7%16%
Women 24.1%58%
Both men and women 17.2%21%
Relatives 3.5%0%
Sufficient water, no collection
activities
3.5%5%
Total 100%100%
a)
Source: 2012 field survey.
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save water. About a fifth of the men, but fewer than one
tenth of the women, still reported having no specific plan
to address the domestic water shortage (Figure 4B).
Community-level water management
Water managers are selected by the villager committee
and approved by a meeting of the villagers’
representatives. They are mainly responsible for water
tank and pipe maintenance and for domestic water
allocation at the village level. Although both women and
men can serve as managers, no women have been selected
as managers in the past. Both men and women said that
this was due to the skills and physical strength needed to
repair pipes and water infrastructure, as well as a
perception that it fell outside women’s traditional
domestic roles. However, as water scarcity continued,
conflicts over water allocation became more frequent, and
both men and women acknowledged that women have
become increasingly active in monitoring water allocation
along with water managers in order to reduce the risk of
fights among the men. Women are seen as able to solve
these conflicts and ensure equal distribution through
negotiation rather than physical fighting.
Considering future options, focus group discussions
with both men and women emphasized that the
construction of a water tank uphill would reduce water
stress. Both groups stated that villagers were ready to
collectively contribute and that they were also seeking
support from the local government. The village head said,
‘‘it takes a lot of effort to convince the government to
budget for it, but we hope to showcase the tank
construction by starting it without waiting for the
government support.’’ In contrast to these discussions on
the improvement of physical infrastructure, the (female)
head of the women’s group in Haitang advocated
strengthening women’s role in implementing long-term
strategies to address domestic water scarcity by
conserving and recycling water. She stressed that ‘‘it is
necessary to encourage women to plant more cash crops
and trees through the village women’s group. In addition,
I think women and children can play a vital role in
educating villagers to save [and recycle] water.’’
Discussion
Gender-differentiated perceptions and impacts of climate
change are context-specific and depend on the
involvement of men and women in agricultural
production, socioeconomic status, location, and gendered
differences in access to and control of key assets (Roncoli
et al 2001; Carr 2008). Access to support networks and
information and decision-making power are all subject to
traditional gender roles and are important influences on
gendered responses to climate hazards (Carr 2008).
Engagement in agricultural production is partly shaped by
gendered features of migration (Hunter and David 2011).
Therefore, in cases like Haitang, where women and men
have very different roles in water collection, use, and
management, they also have different experiences of
drought. Our results also show that they choose different
coping and adaptation strategies: for example, women
were more likely to adapt to agricultural water shortages
by using different farming techniques and were more
willing to consider shifting to other activities such as
forestry and animal husbandry. Women and men also
played different roles in community-scale water
management: our results show that women in Haitang are
active in informal ways in water management and conflict
prevention. However, despite the increasingly active role
of women in managing water during the drought, cultural
attitudes still exclude them from decision-making.
FIGURE 4 Responses to shortages of water for domestic use: (A) short term; (B) long term.
31Mountain Research and Development http://dx.doi.o rg/10.1659/MR D-JOURNAL-D-1 5-00041.1
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Attention to the gender dimensions of climate change
is relevant to the Chinese context in several ways. Off-
farm work, including large-scale seasonal and permanent
migration to urban areas, has been a major contributor to
economic growth, including in the mountain areas of
Yunnan (Zhang and Song 2003). Many men and younger
women from rural areas have migrated to urban areas,
leaving many middle-aged women behind in rural areas
(Mu and Van de Walle 2011). Agricultural production has
become increasingly feminized, and many women take on
multiple roles in addition to their responsibilities for care
of children and the elderly (Mu and van de Walle 2011). In
Haitang, off-farm wage labor outside the community had
for some years been an important income-generating
strategy. As the drought continued, more men and some
younger women migrated, and women assumed more
responsibility for agricultural production. Water scarcity
has forced women to travel farther to collect water for
agricultural and domestic use, and men have helped them
transport water from more distant sources. This has
limited women’s ability to pursue other livelihood
activities and has made them more dependent on men.
Outmigration (primarily by men) and its adoption as a
drought response strategy thus frame the impact of
drought on women in Haitang. Other studies of gendered
impacts of water shortages caused by climate change also
confirm these findings (Denton 2002; Neumayer and
Plumper 2007; Nellemann et al 2011; Jin et al 2015).
Although formal water management policies in rural
China may help farmers meet their practical needs, little
explicit attention has been paid to gender-specific needs,
and no regulations have been put in place to ensure
women’s participation in formal institutions and in water
management institutions (Lu 2009). Traditional gender
roles remain dominant, especially in mountain areas with
strong cultural traditions, and these can prevent the
meaningful participation of women in community-based
water management (Ge et al 2011). This is despite many
women’s participation in additional labor as a result of
water scarcity, both in domestic work and in agricultural
production.
Men and women in Haitang suggested that women’s
participation may help to reduce conflicts during drought
and strengthen water management at the community
level. However, because neither government policy nor
village structure explicitly addresses gender issues, the
potential for women to contribute in these areas is wasted.
The relevance of gender issues for policies to address
drought and other climate risks is not widely recognized,
and in general there is a lack of information on the topic.
There is therefore a need for mainstreaming gender
awareness in relevant policies and institutions. Indeed,
there has been almost no assessment of the gender
impacts of climate change and climate variability in
China. Thus, government-supported adaptation responses
may not be tailored to women’s priorities and needs, may
not fully benefit from women’s active contribution to
water management, and may further marginalize rural
women in public affairs.
Conclusion
In mountain communities, women and men experience
vulnerability to water shortage differently and have
different capacities and roles in responding to water
shortage. As a mountainous region with an economy
dominated by agriculture that is subject to significant
water stresses related to climate change, Yunnan Province
is an important site for examining these different
perceptions, impacts, and formal and informal channels
for responding to water stresses. This study found that
women who are engaged in agricultural production in
Haitang are increasingly exposed to the impacts of
drought. This is largely due to the changing roles of men
and women due to outmigration and to increasing water
shortages, which may be linked to climate change. Our
results show that men and women are affected by and
respond to water shortages differently, with women being
more likely to actively change their agricultural
management techniques. However, despite the
increasingly active role of women in managing water
during droughts, they are still excluded from formal
decision-making about water management at the
community level.
Formal water management policies in rural China do
not address gender issues and do not ensure women’s
participation in formal water management institutions
(Lu 2009; Tong et al 2017). These may therefore fail to
align with the priorities and needs of women, who are
increasingly responsible for agricultural management.
Current climate change adaptation policies in China
also focus more on natural ecosystems than on
socioeconomic issues (Peng et al 2015), and there are no
gender-related items in the National Strategy for Climate
Change Adaptation. By understanding culturally specific
gender roles in household economies and natural
resources management (Dankelman 2002), research can
generate insights to inform the development of targeted
measures to support women in coping with longer-term
changes in climate and climate variability (Nelson et al
2002).
This case study has demonstrated that attention to
gendered impacts of and responses to climate hazards are
relevant in the Chinese context. In particular, promoting
gender equality and focusing on greater participation of
women in decision-making are key to supporting
sustainable development in mountain communities where
outmigration of men is high and women take on many
roles in household and agricultural management. Further
research into the gender-differentiated impacts of and
responses to climate hazards in mountain areas, where
people are especially vulnerable to natural and social
32Mountain Research and Development http://dx.doi. org/10.1659/MR D-JOURNAL-D-1 5-00041.1
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stresses, can therefore inform the development of policies aimed at meeting the particular needs of different social
groups in those areas.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
The authors would like to thank the people of Haitang village for their active
participation and hospitality. This research is part of the Himalayan Climate
Change Adaptation Programme (HICAP), which is supported by the
governments of Norway and Sweden and jointly implemented by the
International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), the
Center for International Climate and Environmental Research at Oslo
(CICERO), and GRID-Arendal in collaboration with local partners. Additional
funding was provided by the gender cross-cutting component of the CGIAR
Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry. The authors thank
Juliet Lu, Andrew Stevenson, and Carly Biondi for their support and English
editing, and Mingcheng Wang and Huafang Chen for assistance with the study
map.
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