Resource-poor people face multiple, intersecting social, economic, health, political, and environmental risks and disturbances (Demetriades & Esplen, 2010; Hallegatte & Rozenberg, 2017; Leichenko & Silva, 2014). The concept of resilience has allowed researchers, policymakers, and practitioners to think more broadly about potential solutions to the confluence of challenges facing vulnerable communities, particularly where structural problems and inequalities, such as chronic poverty and gender inequalities, underlie persistent and recurrent shocks and stressors (Béné et al., 2014; Smyth & Sweetman, 2015; USAID, 2012). By lengthening the time frame for considering risks, the resilience lens has also helped to focus attention on the implications of humanitarian interventions on longer-term development and on safeguarding development gains against shocks, thereby bridging humanitarian and development efforts (Béné et al., 2016b; Frankenberger et al., 2014). Key elements for measuring the process of resilience include information on initial and subsequent states (well-being outcomes), disturbances (shocks and stressors), and capacities (Constas et al., 2014; Frankenberger et al., 2014).

While resilience is a complex concept that is understood and utilized in different ways by different disciplines, most definitions describe human resilience as the ability to draw upon a set of capacities to deal with shocks and stressors before, during, and after a disturbance, in a way that maintains or improves well-being outcomes (such as food security or adequate nutrition) (Frankenberger et al., 2014; Mercy Corps, 2016; USAID, 2012, 2017). In this paper, we use the definition of resilience as “the ability of people, households, communities, countries, and systems to mitigate, adapt to, and recover from shocks and stresses in a manner that reduces chronic vulnerability and facilitates inclusive growth” (USAID, 2012, p. 5). This approach prioritizes investments that build adaptive capacities, such as expanding economic opportunities, education, environmental sustainability, diverse livelihoods, and nutrition and health services, while also identifying and reducing risks.

Resilience approaches require studying and understanding the local context to ensure that interventions build on existing capacities and risk management institutions, and support people and institutions in pursuing their preferred strategies (Agrawal et al., 2010; Tschakert, 2007; Vaughan & Henly-Shepard, 2018). Attention to the specific context refers not only to a particular time and place, but also to the many social differences of people living in a specific geography at a given time. In designing and evaluating resilience-oriented programs and policies, development actors need to consider questions such as which kinds of capacities are important for building resilience in a particular context for specific groups of people, and how best to support people in developing these capacities and responding to shocks and stressors in a way that protects or improves well-being outcomes.

Growing evidence shows that men and women are differently exposed to and have different preferences and capacities to respond to shocks and stressors, which include some of the largest threats facing the global community like climate change, conflict, and COVID-19 (Jordan, 2019; Smyth & Sweetman, 2015; Theis et al., 2019). Because shocks and stressors occur in local contexts with different power structures, institutions, infrastructure, and socio-cultural norms, it is difficult to generalize the ways in which men and women of different backgrounds are differently affected by and respond to these disturbances. Moreover, the ways in which men and women experience and react depends on the types of overlapping shocks and stressors that they experience and the individual capacities that they possess.

Underlying structural inequalities in society, including between men and women, shape the ways in which shocks and stressors are distributed and impact people, and the capacities and options men and women have at their disposal to respond to these disturbances (Njuki et al., 2022). Even members of the same household do not necessarily face the same set of risks or share the same capacities, vulnerabilities, preferences, and decision-making power. Similarly, men and women in rural farming communities face different challenges and have different resilience capacities and response options than poor urban consumers, as they are embedded in different food environments.Footnote 1 These differences can result in differential well-being outcomes, including food security and nutrition outcomes, and can exacerbate existing gender gaps in food systems as people experience and respond to multiple shocks and stresses. Thus, understanding the interactions between gender and resilience as they relate to food systems and food security is an important topic for the research for development agenda.

This chapter highlights the key gendered dimensions of resilience in the food system, drawing on evidence from the literature, including systematic reviews and global indicators, where available, as well as case study examples that highlight important linkages between gender, resilience, and food security. The chapter builds on a conceptual framework for gender and resilience (Theis et al., 2019) by incorporating a food systems lens that expounds dimensions related to gender and resilience at different stages of the food value chain from production to consumption and in different food environments (rural and urban). After presenting the conceptual framework, this chapter applies it to case studies from the literature, which are used to highlight the components of the framework and how these link to key elements of food systems. It concludes by discussing how to  strengthen attention to gender in resilience policies, programs, and investments and by highlighting remaining research and evidence gaps.

Conceptual Framework

This chapter uses a conceptual framework developed by the authors for the Gender, Climate Change, and Nutrition Integration Initiative (GCAN), which characterizes the relationships between resilience, gender, and nutrition (Bryan et al., 2017; Theis et al., 2019). This chapter expands on this framework by integrating a food systems lens (Fig. 8.1). Food systems include all elements and activities related to the production, processing, distribution, preparation, and consumption of food, and the drivers and outputs of these activities, including food security and nutrition outcomes, as well as socioeconomic and environmental outcomes (HLPE, 2017). Specifically, this chapter integrates the three main elements of food systems—food value chains,Footnote 2 the food environment, and consumer behavior—which influence the ways in which shocks and stressors affect well-being outcomes—especially food security and nutrition outcomes.

Fig. 8.1
figure 1

(Source Adapted by the authors from Bryan et al. [2017] and Theis et al. [2019])

The Gender, Climate Change, and Nutrition Integration Initiative (GCAN) framework

The framework can be applied to different scales of analysis, including intrahousehold, household, community, and national levels. In this chapter, we mainly focus on individuals within households to illustrate that members of the same household do not necessarily share the same capacities, vulnerabilities, preferences, and decision-making power. While introduced here briefly, the interactions between gender and resilience are discussed in more detail in relation to each component of the framework in the following sections, drawing on evidence from the literature. The literature selected to illustrate the main components of the framework focuses more on gender dimensions at the household level; however, the enabling environment, including policies, investments, and interventions also influence all the other elements of the framework from exposure and sensitivity to resilience outcomes.

We then discuss how a food system lens relates to each component of the framework. The added food system elements are summarized in purple boxes in Fig. 8.1 and linked to the components of the framework. Shocks and stressors affect people depending on their level of exposure and sensitivity to the disturbance, their resilience capacities to cope with, adapt to, and transform their livelihoods, and the enabling environment. Well-being outcomes also depend on intrahousehold decision-making processes which determine which responses are chosen and who benefits from these choices. Depending on these response choices, well-being outcomes follow along several potential impact pathways, including changes in food production practices, sources and allocation of income, asset dynamics, labor allocation, natural resource management, collective action, and human capital investments. The well-being outcomes resulting from current shocks and stressors then influence exposure, sensitivity, and resilience capacities to future disturbances through a feedback loop. Similarly, the greenhouse gas implications of different response options, such as consumption changes, changes in farming practices and land use changes, also influence future climate change, one of the key challenges facing vulnerable communities in low-income countries. Viewing this iterative cycle through a gender lens illustrates how differences between men and women emerge along each of these steps.

First, individuals are exposed to different disturbances (shocks and stressors) and experience the same shocks and stressors differently. Food security and nutritional (and health) status and the food environment can influence men’s and women’s sensitivity to shocks and stressors. Moreover, men and women’s livelihood activities along agricultural value chains may be differently exposed to shocks and stressors (Limuva & Sinnevag, 2018).

Second, people have different resilience capacities (absorptive, adaptive, transformative), subject to gender and other social distinctions as well as the intersection of these identities, including those related to age, class, caste, ethnicity, marital status, and sexual identity, among others (Béné et al., 2014; Djoudi et al., 2016). Narratives that depict women as perpetually vulnerable and men as inevitably antagonistic toward gender equality ignore the ways in which women are agents of change and neglect the constraints faced by men as well as the opportunities to mobilize men as allies for gender and social equity (Doss et al., 2018). Nutritional status, food security, and the food environment are important determinants of men’s and women’s resilience capacities. In addition, the range of response options for men and women may differ, based on their individual capacities and livelihood activities in which they are engaged, including along agricultural value chains.

Third, within households, institutions, and communities, each response to a disturbance—even if that response is to do nothing—is the result of choice and negotiation, albeit among restricted options (Demetriades & Esplen, 2010; Quisumbing & Maluccio, 2003). Individuals do not all have the same preferences, knowledge, priorities, or decision-making power. The decision-making context, or an actor’s ability to negotiate for a preferred response option within a household or community, is a key element within the process of resilience that has strong differences by gender but is often overlooked (Behrman et al., 2014). Importantly, men and women have different consumer preferences and behavior, including different roles in procuring food—with women generally being in charge of food preparation and cooking, but in many cases eating last (Hathi et al., 2021)—and in their dietary preferences (Fig. 8.1).

The process of negotiation can lead to a set of observed response choices that can be characterized in different ways. Response choices are reflective of the resilience capacities and livelihood roles of the actors (Ngigi et al., 2017). This framework, therefore, characterizes the responses along similar lines as coping, risk management, adaptive, and transformative responses (Béné et al., 2014; Keck & Sakdapolrak, 2013). Coping responses are usually short-term, ex post responses to experienced shocks or stresses and include actions like selling assets or changing consumption patterns, and, at larger scales, humanitarian interventions (Corbett, 1988; Dercon, 2002; Nguyen et al., 2020). While coping responses may aim to maintain well-being at pre-shock levels, they are often associated with a deterioration in well-being, such as poorer diets and increased indebtedness. Risk management strategies, like diversifying production or livelihood activities, and adaptive responses, like adopting new agronomic practices, tend to be proactive and aimed at avoiding or minimizing harmful impacts of shocks and stresses over the medium to long term (Corcoran-Nantes & Roy, 2018; Jost et al., 2016; Lawson et al., 2020). Transformative responses aim to change the fundamental attributes of a system or context to improve well-being outcomes, such as actions that directly address underlying social inequalities (Carr, 2020; McOmber et al., 2019).

Finally, responses to shocks and stressors can have differential impacts on the well-being outcomes of men, women, boys, and girls through several pathways, such as changes in gendered asset dynamics or labor allocation, and there may be trade-offs across different outcomes or different groups of people (Lee et al., 2021; Quisumbing et al., 2018). Men and women may take up new livelihood activities or practices along food value chains that affect well-being outcomes, including by influencing the flow of nutrition along food value chains (Brownhill et al., 2016; Gnisci, 2016). Drawing attention to outcome pathways helps uncover some of the key mechanisms driving well-being outcomes and how these outcomes are distributed among different groups of people.

Application of the Framework to the Literature

Gender Differences in Exposure and Sensitivity to Disturbances

Resilience-informed policy and programming require active investigation of how risks, and exposure and sensitivity to shocks and stressors differ within a local population. The literature discussed in this section illustrates gender differences in exposure and sensitivity to shocks and stressors and the reasons for these differences.

Gender and Exposure

In the case of natural disasters, several global reviews have found that women tend to have higher morbidity and reduced life expectancy compared to men following droughts, storms, earthquakes, and fires, especially where women have lower socioeconomic status, less access to information, and limited agency to make strategic life choices (Doocy et al., 2013; Erman et al., 2021; Neumayer & Plümper, 2007). Frankenberg et al. (2011) found that in Indonesia, women were twice as likely as men to die because of the 2004 Tsunami. Yet, other case studies found that men die at higher rates than women due to higher exposure to natural hazards given that they are overrepresented in high-risk occupations, such as construction (Delaney & Shrader, 2000; Erman et al., 2021; Zagheni et al., 2015). In Honduras and Nicaragua, more men than women died following Hurricane Mitch in 1998 (Delaney & Shrader, 2000).

Men’s and women’s differential experience with shocks and stressors such as climate change is reflected in the different ways in which they perceive and report the impacts of these disturbances, though patterns are not generalizable across contexts (Oloukoi et al., 2014; Twyman et al., 2014). In Nigeria, for example, while men were concerned with climate change impacts on yields of tuber and legume crops, women perceived a reduction in the availability of fruits, seeds, and herbs from community woodlots (Oloukoi et al., 2014).

There are also gender differences in the level of exposure to other types of shocks and stressors, such as violent conflict. Buvinic et al. (2013) outline gender differences in the direct and indirect impacts of armed conflict, including women’s experience with sexual and gender-based violence, higher mortality rates among men and widowhood among women, greater displacement among women and children, and health impacts, such as the rate of HIV and AIDS. Shocks and stressors are often compounding—for instance, evidence suggests that weather shocks, like droughts, storms, and floods, exacerbate conflict and contribute to displacement and migration (Abel et al., 2019; IDMC, 2020).

COVID-19 has exacerbated gender disparities in how men and women experience the combined health and economic shocks of the pandemic, with considerable variation across countries. While men are at a higher risk of severe illness due to both biological and lifestyle factors (e.g., smoking and alcohol consumption) (Koo et al., 2021), women are likely to shoulder a larger care burden (IFPRI, 2021). IFPRI data from several rounds of phone surveys in selected countries in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia suggest that both men and women in rural areas are hit hard by income losses, savings and asset depletion, indebtedness, and food insecurity because of the pandemic (ibid.). The extent to which families rely on men’s or women’s savings and assets to cope with the pandemic will have lasting implications for the gender asset gap and the resilience capacities of men and women to address future shocks and stressors. The World Economic Forum (2021) estimates that the time needed to close global gender gaps in economic opportunity, education, health, and political participation increased from 99.5 years to 135.6 years as a result of COVID-19.

Gender and Sensitivity

Sensitivity to particular shocks and stressors is also gendered and can change throughout the life cycle. For example, boys are biologically more vulnerable to shocks and stressors in utero, while young girls are more affected in early childhood (e.g., nutrition, schooling outcomes) due to greater social vulnerability (Erman et al., 2021). Later in life, the social and economic consequences of separation from or death of a partner are almost always more serious for women than they are for men because women risk losing access to land and other assets (Deere & Doss, 2006).

Gender disparities in the impacts of shocks and stressors can exacerbate gender inequality over the medium to long term. Studies of the gendered impacts of the 2008 food price crisis found that both the short- and long-term effects were greater on women smallholder farmers than men, including short-term food insecurity and hunger, and a long-term widening of the gender asset gap due to the lack of a gender-sensitive response to the crisis that addressed underlying structural inequalities in the food system (Botreau & Cohen, 2020; Quisumbing et al., 2011; Kumar & Quisumbing, 2013). Female-headed households appear to be particularly vulnerable to food price shocks, as demonstrated by a case study from Ethiopia that found that female-headed households were more likely to reduce meals and eat less preferred foods (Kumar & Quisumbing, 2013). In the absence of gender-responsive policies, investments, and interventions, the current global food crisis exacerbated by war in Ukraine continues to have disproportionate impacts on women and girls with potential long term, negative impacts (Bryan, Ringler, & Lefore, 2022).

What Does a Food System Lens Add?

Integrating a food system lens into the conceptual framework highlights important differences in exposure and sensitivity of men and women based not only on their level of food security or nutritional status, but also their role along agricultural value chains and the food environment in which they live. Men’s and women’s livelihood activities along food value chains may be differently exposed to disturbances and this determines what response options are most appropriate. In some cases, women’s roles may be less vulnerable to shocks and stressors. For instance, women are more likely to raise local livestock breeds and smaller animals, which tend to be more resilient to the negative impacts of climate change (Chanamuto & Hall, 2015; Köhler-Rollefson, 2012). In other cases, women’s livelihood activities may be more exposed to the harmful impacts of climate change. A case study from a peri-urban area around Magdalena, Mexico, shows that women in that environment were more affected by the negative impacts of climate change and associated water scarcity given that they rely on fruit and vegetable processing for their livelihoods, food security, and to maintain social ties (Buechler, 2009).

The types of shocks that men and women are exposed to in different food environments will also vary. A review of the literature on gendered vulnerabilities and water security found that while droughts negatively affect the farming activities on which many rural households depend, vulnerable urban households may experience more harmful impacts of flooding and other health-related risks, like cholera, due to poor water infrastructure and crowded conditions (Grasham et al., 2019). The review found that women from poor urban communities were particularly vulnerable to flood shocks in the absence of adequate water infrastructure and experienced greater loss of income, food insecurity, and increased risk of infection and disease (ibid.).

Sensitivity to disturbances also varies across different food environments. In the USA, food environments characterized by a high density of vendors selling unhealthy foods, called “food swamps,” are stronger predictors of obesity than “food deserts” where access to healthy foods is limited (Cooksey-Stowers et al., 2017). Furthermore, shocks and stressors can alter food environments including the availability and quality of foods on which vulnerable populations depend. As an example, in response to the COVID-19 crisis, home food procurement (gardening, foraging, fishing, hunting, etc.) increased in many places across the world. A study in Vermont, USA, showed that food insecure households were more likely to engage in these activities but did not manage to significantly increase intake of fruits and vegetables, whereas intake increased significantly for already food secure households that engaged in home food procurement (Niles et al., 2021). A longer-term stressor is climate change, which is decreasing the nutritional content of staple crops—especially crops like wheat, rice, potatoes, and soy that comprise a large share of the diets in many low-income countries (Fanzo et al., 2018).

Gendered Resilience Capacities in Food Systems

Investing in resilience capacities can enable people to expand and improve their range of options for dealing with disturbances. Investments in basic services, infrastructure, asset building, human capital development, and livelihood diversification were found to increase food consumption and dietary diversity during drought and input cost shocks in Malawi (Murendo et al., 2020). People with weak or limited resilience capacities may be forced to choose coping mechanisms that negatively influence their well-being or future adaptive capacity, such as reducing food consumption, taking children out of school, or drawing down assets (Theis et al., 2019). Individuals with greater resilience capacities have more options to protect and improve their livelihoods and well-being over the long term (Béné et al., 2016a). Men and women have different capacities to cope with shocks and stressors in the short to medium term (coping capacity) and to adjust their livelihood activities and strategies to address risks, seize opportunities, and reduce the negative impacts of shocks and stressors over the medium to long term (adaptive capacity) (Béné et al., 2015; Theis et al., 2019).

Resilience capacities also depend on other intersectional identities, such as age, class, caste, ethnicity, marital status, and sexual identity (Anderson, 2018; Carr & Thompson, 2014; Djoudi et al., 2016; Ravera et al., 2016; Tabaj & Spangler, 2017). One aspect of intersectionality that differentiates women’s resilience capacities is marital status. In many contexts, female heads of household face greater limitations in access to land, capital, social networks, and labor, which limit their households’ resilience (Mersha & Van Laerhoven, 2018; Van Aelst & Holvoet, 2016), while women in dual-headed households can, in some cases, benefit from access to these resources through male household members but may have less decision-making authority.

Many of the factors that contribute to women’s empowerment also enhance resilience capacities at different levels (individual, household, and community). These include access to and control over resources like natural resources, physical assets, human capital, technology, and financial capital like savings and credit. Aspects of women’s agency, like control over income, employment and livelihood choices, collective agency (including participation in groups), mobility, and work burden, also influence resilience capacities. The discussion below is not an exhaustive presentation of all these factors. Rather, it focuses on those capacities that are important for maintaining or improving food security following a disturbance.

Access to and Control Over Resources for Women’s Empowerment and Resilience

Access to and control over assets is a key resilience capacity and a measure of women’s empowerment (USAID, 2017). Assets function as a store of value and can be used to generate food and income or facilitate investment in better livelihood strategies (Johnson et al., 2016; Meinzen-Dick et al., 2011). Assets also influence social status and bargaining power at home and in the community (Johnson et al., 2016; Meinzen-Dick et al., 2011). Yet gender disparities in access to and control over productive assets, like land and livestock, mean that different approaches are required to effectively support women in building and safeguarding these assets (Ortiz-Ospina & Roser, 2018). In some cases, women’s assets, such as jewelry, may be drawn down in response to shocks if the asset is less important for generating household income, the owner has weaker bargaining power within the household, or the asset is easier to sell (Quisumbing et al., 2018). Increasing women’s control over productive assets, especially strengthening women’s land rights, may, in some contexts, lead to adoption of practices that increase resilience, such as soil and water conservation practices and agroforestry on agricultural lands (Meinzen-Dick et al., 2019). But expanding women’s land rights, without raising awareness of what these rights entail, does not necessarily lead to changes in agricultural practices. In Ethiopia, Quisumbing and Kumar (2014) showed that women’s knowledge of their land rights, following the land reforms in the early 2000s, was essential for the adoption of erosion control measures, and tree planting on plots managed by women.

Human capital is an important resilience capacity: people with better education, knowledge, and skills have more options to tap into government assistance programs (absorptive capacity), adopt new technologies (adaptive capacity), or diversify their livelihoods (transformative capacity). Moreover, women’s education is associated with a range of positive outcomes, including reduced risk of child malnutrition and mortality (Sandiford et al., 1995). Even though more women are becoming educated today compared to 50 years ago, the gender gap in education persists, especially in countries that also have low levels of male educational attainment (Evans et al., 2019). There is evidence that some shocks, like COVID-19, negatively affect girls’ education more than boys (Akmal et al., 2020), that the gender gap in education is associated with vulnerability to shocks and stressors, such as climate change, and that promoting girls’ reproductive rights, education, and life skills would lead to greater resilience. Countries where girls have higher levels of schooling also have lower climate change vulnerability scores (Kwauk & Braga, 2017). Case study evidence from several contexts further shows that the risk of early marriage—which is associated with a series of negative outcomes, including maternal and child nutrition, and is often exacerbated by shocks—declines as years of girls’ schooling increases (ibid.).

Livelihood Roles, Employment, and Income

Men’s and women’s ability to earn and control income through farming or other activities along agricultural value chains also determines their capacity to respond to the shocks and stressors that they face. In farm households, women tend to control crops that generate lower revenue relative to men’s crops (Njuki et al., 2011). Women also have fewer economic opportunities along agricultural value chains and tend to be overrepresented in lower value nodes of the value chain given disparities in assets, time burden, and patriarchal norms (Coles & Mitchell, 2011; Dolan, 2001). Women are also less likely than men to participate in the formal labor force and more likely to work in informal employment and in vulnerable, low-paid, or undervalued jobs than men (ILO, 2021). These constraints, which are particularly severe in the agricultural and food chain sectors, have implications for women’s ability to earn and allocate income in ways that they prefer, generally toward purchases that increase household and children’s well-being, such as spending on food, education, and medical expenses (Duflo & Udry, 2004; Hoddinott & Haddad, 1995; Malapit et al., 2015; Quisumbing, 2003)—investments which are generally considered to have positive implications for resilience.

Conversely, women’s more limited ability to generate and control income has negative implications for resilience. A case study from Côte d’Ivoire illustrates how the gendered distribution of farming roles and expenditure obligations of men and women results in women having more limited income streams, which reduces the household’s ability to cover unexpected shocks, such as medical expenses or consumption needs during the lean season (Kiewisch, 2015).

Access to Services: Extension, Information, and Financial Services

Access to information and extension services can increase resilience capacity, especially for addressing climate shocks and stressors, where information is needed to make appropriate response choices. Resilience programs that provide information services should consider gender differences in needs and preferences for information content (McOmber et al., 2019; Tall et al., 2014), channel of delivery (Jost et al., 2016; Partey et al., 2018; Tall et al., 2014; Twyman et al., 2014), and the ability of all end-users to understand and use the information (Ragasa et al., 2017). Moreover, gender differences in access to information vary across contexts depending on women’s access to information and communication technology (ICT), participation in groups, and social norms affecting who is targeted for information dissemination (Gumucio et al., 2020). As an example, according to GSMA (2020), South Asia still has an urban-rural gap in access to mobile internet of 30%, while the gender gap in mobile internet use remains largest at 51%, suggesting large challenges for rural women to access key information, including on selling and purchasing food. In other regions, women’s access is slowly improving. Kapinga and Montero (2017), for instance, note that the use of mobile technology was an effective tool to increase women entrepreneurs’ access to market information and enabled women to expand their business networks while maintaining their family responsibilities in a case study of Tanzania. While most studies of ICT use have focused on accessing formal information services (like extension or market information), ICTs are also important for maintaining familial and social ties, which can be important sources of resilience, such as reducing the risk of violent conflict, motivating cash remittances from urban workers, or rural family sending food to urban members in times of crisis (Bernier & Meinzen-Dick, 2014; Endris et al., 2017; Mukoya, 2020; Frankenberger et al., 2013).

Building financial capital and having access to financial services, such as insurance, credit, and savings, are essential for people to manage risk and mitigate the negative impacts of shocks and stressors (Moore et al., 2019). However, studies suggest that women are more likely to be excluded from the formal financial sector, including having a bank account, due to patriarchal social norms, limited legal rights, lower financial literacy, the gender gap in education, the lack of access to information, and other factors (Fletschner & Kenney, 2014; Hasler & Lusardi, 2017; Morsy, 2020). Women’s lack of access to credit relative to men affects their access to food, especially during times of crisis.

Time Burden and Resilience

The gendered burden of unpaid work within households falls heavily on girls and women and limits their ability to generate income and build their resilience capacities like investing in human capital and accumulating assets (Kes & Swaminathan, 2006). In addition, women’s workloads can be further exacerbated by shocks and stressors as well as the responses to them. Climatic shocks, including droughts and floods, often decrease water available for domestic uses. In 2017, one in ten people lacked basic servicesFootnote 3 for domestic water, including the 144 million people who drank untreated surface water, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa (UNICEF & WHO, 2019). This reduces the learning opportunities of women and children, who are responsible for most water collection in rural areas and undermines their health and livelihood opportunities (Geere & Cortobius, 2017). Women may be more reluctant to adopt some adaptation options because they entail too heavy a workload (Jost et al., 2016) and take time away from food preparation and other care practices (Komatsu et al., 2018).

Food Security and Nutritional Status

Food security and nutritional status are not only affected by shocks and stressors like climate change, but also play a role in determining individuals’ capacity to respond to disturbances. Better child nutrition builds human capital, given its association with future cognitive and educational performance and positive impact on productivity in adulthood (Victora et al., 2008). Adequate nutrition during pregnancy, infancy, and childhood has also been shown to improve physical capabilities, which increase productivity of manual labor (Haas et al., 1995; Koletzko et al., 2019; Rivera et al., 1995; Victora et al., 2008). Based on Food Insecurity Experience Scale data collected during 2014 and 2018 for more than 140 countries, women have a 27% higher chance than men of being severely food insecure and the gender gap in food insecurity is more prevalent among the poor, the less educated, and the suburban dwellers of large cities (FAO et al., 2020). Moreover, the gap in food insecurity increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, illustrating the unequal impact of the pandemic on men and women (FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP, & WHO, 2022). At the same time, women are at a higher risk of being obese, which can affect health and ability to work. In 2016, 390 million women and 281 million men were obese (NCD-RisC, 2017).

The Decision-Making Space and Responses to Disturbances

Within households and communities, men and women often have different preferences regarding how to use resources, what risks to take, and how to respond to specific shocks and stressors, which are often tied to the different roles men and women play in securing livelihoods (Bernier et al., 2015; Ravera et al., 2016). Because interests are not homogeneous within households, institutions, and communities, people must negotiate for their desired response when faced with a disturbance. Although equitable decision-making can be classified as a transformative resilience capacity (Vaughan & Henly-Shepard, 2018), some degree of agency and decision-making power is needed to exercise any resilience capacity—whether absorptive, adaptive, or transformative—for any preferred response. Thus, women’s agency—including their intrinsic motivations, and their ability to make strategic life choices and carry out these decisions—is essential to ensure that their needs and preferences are reflected in the observed responses to shocks and stressors (Béné et al., 2019).

Decision-Making in Household and Community Spaces

Women tend to have less bargaining power and limited influence over important household decisions, including how their own income is spent (Ortiz-Ospina & Roser, 2018). Decisions, such as a woman’s choice to pursue an income-generating activity or wage employment or participate in a group or program activity, can be subject to their husband’s or other family members’ consent. In some farming systems, men control agricultural land and may choose whether to allocate land to women, and the quantity and quality of land that they will farm. Furthermore, even when women have access to credit or own assets, women’s credit acquisition may require male approval, and the sale of a woman’s own assets may not be her decision (Pradhan et al., 2019).

Joint decision-making within households can help families better plan, prepare, and respond to shocks and stressors in a way that benefits the entire family, by accounting for different household members’ needs and drawing on women’s knowledge and abilities. Studies have found that women’s increased bargaining power is associated with increases in household expenditures on child health and education—human capital investments that are recognized to increase resilience in the long run (Quisumbing & Maluccio, 2003). In Somalia, Mercy Corps (2014) found that women’s involvement in household decision-making was strongly linked with household dietary diversity and a reduction in negative coping mechanisms. In Bangladesh, women’s role in production decisions increased the diversity of crops grown on the farm, away from rice to other more nutritious crops (De Pinto et al., 2020). Evidence suggests that such diversified cropping systems provide multiple benefits, including reducing climate risks to production and livelihoods and better environmental sustainability (Asfaw et al., 2019; Birthal & Hazrana, 2019; Makate et al., 2016). Nutrition-sensitive agricultural programs have found it important to not only train mothers of young children on healthy diets, but also include their husbands and mothers-in-law (Malapit et al., 2021).

At the community level, local institutions play multiple roles in building resilience to climate shocks and stressors, including mobilizing, pooling, or regulating the use of shared resources, distributing benefits from interventions, using indigenous knowledge, and facilitating social learning (Agrawal, 2010; Béné, 2020a; Choudhury et al., 2021). When institutions that establish rules around the use and management of community resources and social protection programs—such as village councils or water user committees—do not represent the needs and priorities of the most marginal, they can serve to reinforce intracommunity inequality and curtail the response options of the most vulnerable groups. Women are often excluded from decisions at the community level in local decision-making bodies, which may be the result of discriminatory norms about who can actively participate, lack of social capital, the inconvenient timing and location of meetings, and exclusive membership criteria, such as a requirement that members of a water user association own land or be literate (Pandolfelli et al., 2007). Women’s greater involvement in community-based organizations could contribute to community resilience by tapping into their specific knowledge and ability to reach certain networks—for instance, in determining where to situate a well, identifying vulnerable households, or sharing information with other women (Demetriades & Esplen, 2010). In particular, collective action through women’s self-help groups builds social capital and provides important resources, such as group savings or shared labor, that increase community resilience (Cabot Venton et al., 2021). In addition, evidence suggests that participation in self-help groups builds individual women’s resilience capacities by improving psychosocial outcomes, increasing social capital, and providing economic opportunities (ibid.).

Gendered Preferences for Response Choices and the Implications for Food Security

Men’s and women’s preferences for alternative response choices may vary across different food environments and different livelihood activities, including along food value chains. The food environment determines which response strategies may be most effective at addressing the most pressing food security and nutritional challenges (Downs et al., 2020; Herforth & Ahmed, 2015; HLPE, 2017; Turner et al., 2018). Poor men’s and women’s preferences for cash transfers versus vouchers or in-kind food assistance depend on the degree of control women have over household resources and their role in the household, as well as whether markets and public distribution systems work effectively, which often varies between rural and urban areas (Alderman et al., 2017). Household and community garden programs promoting production of fruits, vegetables, livestock, and fish may be important where such micronutrient-rich foods are not widely available or affordable. Strengthening value chains, particularly for nutrient-rich foods, is increasingly recognized as a way to leverage agriculture to improve nutrition (Ruel et al., 2013). However, value chains need to be considered more broadly beyond farm-level production and include the way foods are produced, processed, distributed, and marketed; how shocks and stressors, like climate change, may affect these activities; and what response options are needed to minimize any negative effects on food security, nutritional status, and the environment (Fanzo et al., 2018). These interventions may include increased access to improved, stress-tolerant crop and livestock varieties, improved agronomic and livestock feeding practices at the production stage, and better food storage and processing practices that ensure food safety, preservation of nutritional content and reduced food waste during later value chain stages (ibid.).

Women have important roles to play throughout food systems—both along food value chains and as consumers making food purchases—and are, thus, well-positioned to adopt practices that improve food security and nutrition outcomes. In Bangladesh, women were more likely to adopt practices like improved livestock feeding practices and grain storage, given that these are livelihood activities for which they are responsible (Bryan et al., 2021). A recent study of four value chains in the Philippines showed that small-scale retail entailed a large time burden with little payoff for women processors and traders in the abaca, coconut, and seaweed value chains (Malapit et al., 2020). Grace et al. (2015) analyzed gender roles and food safety in 20 livestock and fish value chains in Africa and Asia and observed a clear gender division of labor in the individual stages of the value chain—men were more likely than women to work in production and slaughtering activities, while women were more likely to work in processing and retail activities. In West Africa, women were responsible for smoking or drying fish and producing traditional dairy products while both women and men were involved in the processing of offal in Nigeria and South Africa and the making of biltong (a form of dried, cured meat) in South Africa (ibid.).

Post-harvest management practices are critical for household food security and resilience-building. They affect the nutrient content, food availability (as a result of food loss) and stability, and food safety outcomes. Men’s and women’s roles in post-harvest management are usually determined by context-specific cultural norms, which may change over time in response to technological and demographic changes. An example is aflatoxinFootnote 4 risk, which is increasing with climate change (Thomas et al., 2019), with detrimental effects on health (Kensler et al., 2011) and child growth (Khlangwiset et al., 2011; PACA, 2014). Women have key roles to play in minimizing contamination during the post-harvest period through improved drying and storage practices. Moreover, women are also key decision-makers on foods that are prepared for home consumption and in that role can guide diversification of diets away from aflatoxin-contaminated foods toward more fruits, vegetables, legumes, and animal-source foods, if they receive information on aflatoxin risks (Brown, 2018). The above case studies demonstrate that women have important contributions to make along food value chains to secure the supply of healthy, nutritious foods and as food consumers to provide healthy diets for their families.

Women also play important roles in maintaining household food security and increasing resilience in urban food environments. The diversity of cultural values and gender norms often found in cities can enable greater flexibility in gender roles, responsibilities, and behavior, including greater income-earning and schooling opportunities and increased access to services (Hovorka et al., 2009). Women are often heavily involved in urban agriculture activities, which is increasingly important given ongoing trends toward urbanization and climate change that can cause income losses, supply chain disruptions, and food insecurity (Hovorka et al., 2009; Olivier & Heinecken, 2017). Women also dominate processing activities in peri-urban and urban areas and benefit from having greater access to a wider range of marketing channels (Buechler, 2009).

Women also comprise a larger share of food vendors in urban areas, playing an important function in the food system by distributing foods more widely throughout urban areas, including to poor consumers (Giroux et al., 2020). A case study from India found that even though women street vendors were less likely to be the managers or decision-makers in street vendor enterprises, those who led street vendor enterprises expressed a greater desire to invest in expanding their enterprise than their male counterparts, highlighting the entrepreneurial nature of women in this context (Patel et al., 2014). In Vietnam, women rely on social relations to operate in the informal food system and these relations provide an important source of resilience, enabling women to cope more easily with and overcome economic shocks than men, who rely more on market interactions (Kawarazuka et al., 2018). On the other hand, women remain more vulnerable than men to policy efforts to formalize and regulate the informal food system (Kawarazuka et al., 2018).

Pathways from Response Choices and Interventions to Differential Well-Being Outcomes

Applying a gender lens to research on resilience highlights the importance of considering gender differentials in well-being outcomes and the pathways contributing to these differentials. Responses to shocks and stressors can have differential impacts on men’s and women’s well-being outcomes, especially when the decision-making context is characterized by large power differentials or exclusion and lack of representation. The resilience lens highlights the dynamic nature of these well-being outcomes as men and women face shocks and stressors over time. Well-being outcomes measured at aggregated levels (e.g., households or communities) or in the short term may obscure the different ways in which responses to shocks and stressors affect individuals’ well-being outcomes over time.

Impact Pathways

There are several pathways through which responses to disturbances can have differential effects on well-being outcomes, including changes in food production, income allocation, consumption patterns, asset dynamics, labor allocation, and human capital investments (Theis et al., 2019). To illustrate how one of these pathways can lead to gender-differentiated outcomes, consider how shocks and stressors induce distress sales of assets. Whose assets are sold has implications for differential well-being outcomes. Women’s personal assets, such as small livestock or jewelry, may be sold for household liquidity, which can reduce women’s intrahousehold bargaining power and economic independence and widen the gender asset gap (Pradhan et al., 2019; Quisumbing et al., 2017). Gendered asset dynamics also depend on the type of shock (e.g., covariate or idiosyncratic) and whose livelihood activities are affected (Rakib & Matz, 2016).

Another key pathway relates to changes in agricultural production practices, adoption of new technologies, and labor allocation. Many agricultural technologies and practices that can assist in building resilience also redistribute family labor and control over income with different implications for men’s and women’s time burden. For example, while conservation agriculture is often touted as an important climate-smart practice, several studies have demonstrated that it increases women’s labor burden (Beuchelt & Badstue, 2013; Nelson & Stathers, 2009). Similarly, in Tanzania, Lee et al. (2021) found that heat stress caused families to shift labor allocation in ways that increased disparities in men’s and women’s agricultural labor burden in dual-headed households and significantly increased the labor burden of female household heads.

The ways in which these pathways play out depend on the context, including the local food environment. The potential for livelihood diversification as a pathway to improve well-being and resilience varies in rural and urban food environments, as well as for men and women in both contexts. In rural areas of many low-income countries, livelihoods revolve around agricultural production and related activities and there are fewer economic opportunities that would enable livelihood diversification to spread risk and increase resilience (Mulwa & Visser, 2020). Even fewer opportunities exist for women, especially in rural contexts where their involvement in production decisions, access to productive resources, and mobility is limited (Jost et al., 2016; Perez et al., 2015). Some opportunities like seasonal migration for employment are available mainly to men but have both positive and negative implications for the women who remain behind, such as an increase in work burden on the negative side and greater control over decision-making on the positive side (Djoudi & Brockhaus, 2016; Erman et al., 2021; Mueller et al., 2014).

There is some evidence that men and women navigate a different set of challenges in the urban food environment to maintain food security in the face of multiple shocks. While urban areas may offer greater employment opportunities, especially in non-agricultural sectors, not everyone in urban areas may benefit from these opportunities (Pingali et al., 2019). A case study from Kenya shows that women living in urban slums with limited livelihood options and very little access to basic infrastructure and services (like water and health facilities) have much lower resilience capacities and tend to adopt coping strategies that meet short-term survival needs but compromise long-term well-being, like withdrawing children from school, engaging in transactional sex, and resorting to crime (Beyer et al., 2016).

Well-Being Outcomes, Trade-Offs, and Feedback Loops

Every response option carries some degree of trade-off among people and across outcomes and spatial and temporal scales. That is, responses to disturbances may improve economic outcomes for people in the short term at the expense of long-term well-being, others, or the environment. For example, taking girls out of school may save cash for the household’s immediate subsistence needs but can hamper girls’ long-term human capital development and lead to a widening gender gap in educational and economic outcomes (Duryea et al., 2007). Coping responses to address income losses related to the COVID-19 pandemic, such as reducing consumption or selling productive assets, further illustrate the temporal trade-off between meeting short-term health and survival needs, and long-term health and well-being (Béné, 2020b). In particular, reducing consumption in the short term can have long term, even intergenerational, implications—short maternal stature (a consequence of poor nutrition in childhood) is associated with low birth weight and child stunting, which in turn has implications for adolescent nutritional status, thus perpetuating the cycle of undernutrition (Martorell & Zongrone, 2012).

The degree of trade-offs that the most vulnerable people are compelled to accept depends on their resilience capacities. Resource poor households may lower expectations and aspirations for what they can achieve in acceptance of their deprivation (Béné et al., 2014). Coulthard (2012) emphasizes the difference between agency and necessity in describing fishers’ selection of inadequate coping strategies to address increased livelihood vulnerability and the well-being trade-offs they are forced to accept as a result, including women having to take on additional livelihood activities like seaweed farming to supplement declining income from fishing.

There are also important trade-offs between livelihood and environmental sustainability. Jarvis et al. (2011) emphasize that risk management strategies are not always adaptive over the long term and may pose environmental costs. For instance, expanding agricultural lands, overapplication of fertilizer, and agricultural intensification to address yield and income declines can have detrimental environmental impacts, such as declining soil fertility, increased greenhouse gas emissions, and deterioration of water quality (Smith et al., 2016).

Potential synergies also exist between well-being outcomes. Households with both male and female economic activity can spread risk across different livelihood activities and reduce exposure to idiosyncratic risks (Eriksen et al., 2005). Several climate-smart practices and technologies that decrease drudgery and women’s time burden are also associated with higher productivity, incomes, and in some cases positive environmental outcomes (Khatri-Chhetri et al., 2020).

Gender-Responsive Policies and Programs for Greater Resilience

This chapter has focused on the resilience capacities, preferences, and responses of individuals and households. However, other factors, including policies, interventions, investments, infrastructure, and institutions, also have a role to play in creating an enabling environment for resilience and in reducing gender inequalities in food systems. Conversely, the lack of gender sensitivity of policies, investments (e.g., infrastructure), and interventions, can reinforce gender inequalities and miss opportunities for increasing resilience. Targeted actions are needed to reduce inequalities and support the most vulnerable members of society given their limited capacity to respond to disturbances, shocks, and stressors like climate change (Huyer & Partey, 2020).

While policies increasingly integrate gender, some important gaps remain. A policy review of climate change policies across countries in Latin America found a lack of gender inclusion in climate change planning despite a relatively higher level of gender integration in the agriculture and food security sector (Gumucio & Rueda, 2015). The absence of gender sensitivity in climate change policies and interventions may be attributed to a lack of capacity on gender within institutions (Bryan et al., 2018). Even when gender analyses are conducted at the start of a project, ensuring gender equality in outcomes requires integrating gender into the design, planning, and monitoring of the intervention. A case study from Senegal demonstrates that this is not always the case—despite assessing gendered roles and contributions to urban agricultural production, a project was designed around male-dominated activities in production rather than women’s roles in transport, processing, and marketing of the products (Gaye & Ndong Touré, 2009).

While many limitations remain, more resources are being directed toward ensuring economic inclusion, in ways that have positive implications for resilience. A global assessment of economic inclusion programming—including social safety nets, livelihoods and jobs programs, and financial inclusion programs—found that women’s economic empowerment is a key feature of nearly 90% of programs surveyed having a gender focus (Andrews et al., 2021). A review of the impact of these programs found that they strengthened women’s economic opportunities and income, increased asset ownership, and led to subtle shifts in gender norms, such as increased mobility (ibid.). While social protection programs alone have shown limited impacts on agricultural production or nutrition, bundling cash or in-kind transfers with high-quality complementary programming, such as agricultural extension or nutrition behavioral change communications does show significant improvements in agriculture and nutrition outcomes (PIM, 2021).

In addition to social protection, there are other promising interventions to increase women’s empowerment and resilience capacities. Tabaj and Spangler (2017) point to a set of potential activities to increase the gender-responsiveness of resilience programs including building women’s social capital and collective action and increasing women’s access to and control over productive resources and essential services. Interventions designed to promote greater joint decision-making within the household around labor allocation, production, budgeting, and resource management can contribute to both women’s empowerment and resilience goals (Farnworth et al., 2018; Mercy Corps, 2018). An intervention in Niger aimed to increase women’s involvement in decision-making through facilitated household dialogues on issues like gendered division of labor (Mercy Corps, 2018). Qualitative research conducted following the intervention found that it increased women’s participation in decisions about food purchases, women’s mobility, access to information, and financial services and reduced labor burden for women (ibid.).

Similarly, interventions that seek to build women’s assets and reduce gendered resource gaps are also an effective approach to build resilience (Theis et al., 2019). An assessment of eight agricultural development projects that aimed to increase asset levels in Africa and South Asia found that all projects were successful at building assets and that projects that distributed assets directly to women were able to increase women’s control over assets (Johnson et al., 2016). These projects provided other benefits in terms of increasing women’s role in decision-making and household income and food security (ibid.). Natural resources like land and water are also essential assets to which women often lack access. Reviews on women’s land rights (Meinzen-Dick et al., 2019) and decision-making on irrigation through participation in water user associations (Meinzen-Dick & Zwarteveen, 1998) suggest that not only women but households and the communities would benefit from closing resource access gaps.

Furthermore, programs that facilitate and support women’s groups can strengthen an important source of resilience for women, as these groups provide a variety of benefits like shared savings and loans, shared labor, and collective agency (Cabot Venton et al., 2021). Women members of self-help groups in India were more politically engaged, more aware of public entitlements, and more likely to benefit from public entitlement schemes than non-members (Kumar et al., 2019). This suggests that women’s groups can help women access resources and services when faced with shocks and stressors.

Other types of interventions may be adapted to increase women’s empowerment and resilience. Certification processes, for example, have been widely used for agroforestry crops, such as cocoa and coffee, with a general focus on environmental objectives, such as shade-grown coffee. Social objectives typically include child-labor free coffee but could be expanded to reduce gendered gaps in well-being outcomes from cultivating these crops. Women-only coffee cooperatives like Café Femenino in Peru and Las Hermanas in Honduras are successfully empowering women and supplying large coffee retailers interested in fulfilling the pro-social objectives demanded by their customers (Rubin & Manfre, 2014).

The impacts of women’s empowerment programs are highly context-specific: impacts are more muted in contexts where social norms are more restrictive of women (Kabeer et al., 2012) and, in some cases, programs can have negative unintended consequences, such as an increase in domestic violence (Buller et al., 2018; Holmes & Jones, 2013). Programs should be designed in ways that address areas of women’s disempowerment in a given context, boost program effectiveness, and minimize unintentional consequences, such as exacerbated time poverty, reinforced traditional gender roles, and gender-based violence (Andrews et al., 2021).


Structural inequalities in society influence the resilience capacities of men and women. These include inequalities in men’s and women’s participation in formal and informal governance institutions at multiple scales and access to critical services like information, extension, and financial services. Encouragingly, the global community increasingly recognizes the importance of tackling structural inequalities to end poverty and hunger and achieve inclusive and sustainable food systems (Freistein & Mahlert, 2016). While women’s empowerment is not synonymous with increasing resilience, and there is little evidence (to date) of the direct linkages, the literature summarized here suggests that many synergies exist: women’s empowerment can increase resilience of women themselves, as well as their households and communities; and well-designed resilience interventions, such as social protection programs, can also increase women’s empowerment. Similarly, improving women’s access to sustainable healthy diets can improve individual, household and community well-being indicators and improve overall resilience to future risks.

As investments and interventions to increase resilience of vulnerable populations to shocks and stressors intensify, it is important to identify and address capacity gaps of different groups within a target population. Identifying differing resilience capacities is critical to determine how programs and policies can strengthen or diversify the resilience capacities of all groups. In addition, understanding existing constraints to building and exercising capacities is important so that policymakers and practitioners can ensure that programs and services are accessible to and relevant for all groups.

Building capacity among institutions operating at larger scales to integrate thinking about gender into resilience policies and programs is also essential so that these policies and programs meet the needs of the most vulnerable groups. More effort is also needed to measure changes in women’s empowerment to track gender-differentiated outcomes of resilience interventions and to build evidence on the extent to which women’s empowerment and resilience are mutually reinforcing.