Understanding The Toll Of Climate Change On Women In Agriculture

Despite their significant contributions on the farm and in the community, women’s roles often go unrecognised, resulting in them being overlooked as the primary target group for training, awareness and crucial resources for building climate resilience

Alison Ward
New Update
manipur women climate change

Climate change is a looming threat, and its consequences are felt most acutely by those who depend on the delicate balance of our planet’s ecosystems. Among the most vulnerable are women farmers, the backbone of rural economies in developing nations like India. The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates that women comprise 45% of the agricultural workforce in developing nations, which goes up to 60% in Africa and Asia.


Climate change disrupts predictable weather patterns, leading to erratic rainfall, rising temperatures, and increased pest outbreaks. Climate change impacts everyone, but its impact on women is more pronounced. The effects of climate change perpetuate and magnify structural inequalities, especially between women and men. This is due to the unequal sharing of power between women and men and the gender gap in access to education, training, resources, and employment opportunities. 

The gendered impact of climate change on women farmers presents itself in manifold ways - from water scarcity to increased workload and decreased crop yields leading to economic strain through lost income and debt. This disproportionately affects women with limited access to credit and financial resources.

In global cotton production, for example, women are a significant contributor, but their work is often labour-intensive and undervalued. They disproportionately shoulder the burden of farm and domestic work while gender norms limit their inheritance rights and access to finance, training and the markets. These gender-specific inequalities compound the difficulties faced by women in farming, making it harder for them to adapt and build resilience in the face of a changing climate.

For women, the toll of climate change extends beyond the fields. Women farmers play a crucial role in household decision-making and childcare. Reduced agricultural income leads to malnutrition, decreased access to healthcare, and a decline in educational opportunities for their children. Existing social norms often limit women’s access to land ownership, resources, and decision-making power. 

Call to action:

Understanding the perspectives of women cotton farmers is vital in crafting solutions to climate change. With climate mitigation strategies demonstrating effectiveness, the focus should now shift towards replicating and expanding successful approaches. This collaborative effort necessitates developing transformative partnerships across the supply chain, encompassing retailers and farmers. 


Despite their significant contributions on the farm and in the community, women’s essential roles often go unrecognised, resulting in them being overlooked as the primary target group for training, awareness and resources crucial for building climate resilience in their communities. 

We can help break the cycle by providing tailored support for women around sustainable farming. Apparel companies can start by equipping female farmers in their supply chains with more sustainable practices. Training and capacity building in climate-smart farm practices can also help them mitigate the effect of catastrophic weather and, at the same time, develop alternate sources of income. This can empower women to be leaders and innovators.

Tapping into the potential of women farmers beyond the farm through financial and health awareness programmes helps create a ripple effect that benefits not only female farmers but also their children and communities. As observed by our Women in Cotton research, women receiving such support report increased self-esteem and confidence, higher household living standards, investment in children’s education, health benefits and improved social standing.

The UN data is a glaring reminder of how social, economic and environmental issues are intrinsically linked. As we strive to mitigate climate change, let us ensure that the most vulnerable are not left behind. The story of Indian women cotton farmers is a microcosm of the human cost of climate change.

By acknowledging their struggles and amplifying their voices, supporting and empowering them in the cotton supply chain, we can shape solutions that are not only environmentally sustainable but also socially equitable, contributing to a more ethical and sustainable sector. 

Authored by Alison Ward, CEO, CottonConnect. Views expressed by the author are their own

Climate Change Cotton Women Farmers