How Gender Equality and Inclusion Support Climate Action

Upland communities in Nepal have better access to water through the Building Climate Resilience of Watersheds in Mountain Eco-Regions project. Photo credit: ADB.

Share on:           

Published: 19 October 2022

In Nepal’s mountain eco-regions, the needs of women and vulnerable groups were considered in designing a project that protects water resources from climate risks.


Nepal faces substantial climate risks. Floods or droughts due to rising temperatures can result in insufficient water for drinking and sanitation in the upland watershed areas. Water scarcity heightens women's vulnerability to climate change more than men's given their traditional roles in the household and in agriculture. It also exacerbates the marginalized sector’s already limited access to water.

An innovative watershed management project supported by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) provided reliable water supply for residential and agricultural use for about 51,000 households. It improved water management and storage practices in about 1,200 communities and helped protect areas around water sources to increase the volume of clean water. The project integrated a gender-targeted and socially inclusive program to make it more effective in promoting inclusive growth through climate-resilient and sustainable infrastructure.

What are the features of a gender-targeted and socially inclusive program?

Gender Equality and Social Inclusion (GESI) features are mechanisms or systems in the project design that ensure benefits reach marginalized groups of the society.

In the case of the project in Nepal, they included rural poor, women, and the youth. They allowed for their active participation in project development and implementation. Women were represented in public meetings across the project’s 972 wards. A ward is the lowest administrative unit in the country. During these sessions, participants were given the opportunity to present and advocate their proposed schemes. With a GESI requisite, community development committees and community development groups were formed, which included women in leadership positions who could weigh in on matters.

Why is a gender-targeted program necessary in Nepal’s climate response?

Nepal is one of the most climate-vulnerable countries in the world. Also known as the “third pole” or the “water tower of Asia,” it faces unique challenges. Retreating glaciers and changes in seasonal snowfall and melt lead to volatile water patterns and to diminished water availability in the long run. Weather extremes, such as severe floods and droughts, could destroy agricultural crops, displace people, kill livestock, and reduce water supply for drinking and sanitation.

Women's vulnerability in Nepal increases substantially during floods and droughts. Since their traditional roles include fetching water, firewood, and fodder, as well as working on agricultural lands, they are severely affected by climate risks. 

In the lower West Seti and Budi Ganga subbasins, the problem is even more prevalent. The annual precipitation in these areas varies from 743 millimeters to 3,351 millimeters under current climate conditions, with about 75% falling during the 4-month monsoon season. More than 85% of households live in scattered dwellings and depend on natural springs as a source for domestic and irrigation water. The subsistence agrarian lifestyle and poverty in these areas further exacerbates the vulnerability of the local communities. They have the highest poverty rate in the country and experience deeply rooted exclusionary practices that affect women. 

Nepal’s Strategic Program for Climate Resilience, which builds on the priority measures set by the National Adaptation Program of Action for Climate Change, found it beneficial to involve the rural poor and women in the project. They were given the opportunity to come up with and implement ideal solutions for their communities. Through the Gender Equality and Social Inclusion features embedded in the climate resilience plan, not only were they able to create effective systems to safeguard water supply, but they were also able to improve the gender balance by increasing participation of women in climate action.

What were the project’s benefits to women?

The embedding of GESI features in the project proved efficient and benefitted women in these ways: 

Women’s economic empowerment. The project’s water storage and irrigation structures made water accessible to the beneficiary communities, thus reducing women’s time to fetch water by 75%. The women used their saved time for vegetable farming, which improved their livelihood and increased their income. They no longer needed to take high-interest loans from moneylenders and have started saving money in the bank. The additional income allowed them to send their children to school and pay for their medical bills. Women became more respected by their husbands, in-laws, and the community since they could become involved in family and community decision-making and contribute to their household’s financial resources.

Gender equality in human development. Embedding GESI mechanisms increased participation of women in nontraditional technical and vocational training programs. The project sponsored 42 people—28 men and 14 (33.33%) women—for tertiary level education. New skills learned as sub-engineers, junior technical assistants, rangers, and electricians gave them a better livelihood.

Gender equality in decision-making and leadership. The project promoted significant representation of women in public meetings that discussed the project approach and scheme selection. The 1,088 ward-level meetings had 33,104 participants, of whom 13,531 (40.87%) were women. The 108 community development committees held 378 meetings (30.01% women participants) to propose schemes that were based on local needs and demands. Each of the 108 committees also had at least one woman as a member. Women’s meaningful participation in the project activities developed a sense of ownership.

An example is Urmila Nagarchi, chairperson of the Mangalsen Community Development Group, who was a first-time leader in Achham district. She was just one of the 1,323 women leaders across the different project committees. These women developed their leadership and networking skills and learned to link with their local representatives in the municipalities for information about government programs and resources to improve their community’s drinking water and irrigation schemes.

What lessons can this project offer in promoting socially responsive climate action?

Integrating the GESI mechanism in development strategies proved successful. As a result, 51,279 households with a population of 318,208 in the project villages experienced improved water security. The project also provided the irrigation infrastructure needed for higher agricultural production and small-scale market gardening, raising the income for women and marginalized groups. Lessons from the project include the following:

  • Involving women in discussions and climate action helps identify and address issues specific to women, such as their roles in the household and in agriculture.
  • Gender-targeted programs encourage women participation. Across coordinated meetings and groups, there was an uptake of at least 33% females among participants, with at least one woman in a leadership role.
  • Better water supply and increased farm income of women and marginalized groups can permeate other aspects of community life, such as health, sanitation, and nutrition. 
  • Participatory planning processes improve social harmony. 

Essentially, a GESI-centered agenda that targets women and other marginalized groups enables, mobilizes, and creates awareness of social issues while providing participatory support for issues that the community faces. In the context of climate response in Nepal, it empowers communities and gives them the knowledge and know-how to collaborate more efficiently to address their common climate risks.

Arun Shumshere Rana
Senior Project Officer, South Asia Department, Asian Development Bank

Arun Rana is based in ADB’s Nepal Resident Mission as focal person for the agriculture, natural resources, and rural development sector. As the country focal, he is responsible for supporting the South Asia Department in developing and implementing investment projects in this sector. He holds a master’s degree in Natural Resources Management from Kathmandu University, Nepal and a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Economics and Management from the University of Georgia, United States.

Asian Development Bank (ADB)

The Asian Development Bank is committed to achieving a prosperous, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable Asia and the Pacific, while sustaining its efforts to eradicate extreme poverty. Established in 1966, it is owned by 68 members—49 from the region. Its main instruments for helping its developing member countries are policy dialogue, loans, equity investments, guarantees, grants, and technical assistance.

Follow Asian Development Bank (ADB) on
Leave your question or comment in the section below:

The views expressed on this website are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) or its Board of Governors or the governments they represent. ADB does not guarantee the accuracy of the data included in this publication and accepts no responsibility for any consequence of their use. By making any designation of or reference to a particular territory or geographic area, or by using the term “country” in this document, ADB does not intend to make any judgments as to the legal or other status of any territory or area.