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A qualitative comparative analysis of women’s agency and adaptive capacity in climate change hotspots in Asia and Africa


There is growing concern about sustainable and equitable adaptation in climate change hotspots, commonly understood as locations that concentrate high climatic variability, societal vulnerability and negative impacts on livelihood systems. Emphasizing gender within these debates highlights how demographic, socioeconomic and agro-ecological contexts mediate the experiences and outcomes of climate change. Drawing on data from 25 qualitative case studies across three hotspots in Africa and Asia, analysed using qualitative comparative analysis, we show how and in what ways women’s agency, or the ability to make meaningful choices and strategic decisions, contributes to adaptation responses. We find that environmental stress is a key depressor of women’s agency even when household structures and social norms are supportive or legal entitlements are available. These findings have implications for the effective implementation of multilateral agreements such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Sendai Framework on Disaster Risk Reduction and the Sustainable Development Goals.

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Fig. 1: Location of 25 study sites across three climate hotspots in Africa and Asia.
Fig. 2: Causal pathways explaining variation in case studies.

Data availability

The data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request. No other article has been published from the QCA dataset, although there are articles in preparation from the larger research projects.


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This work was carried out under the Collaborative Adaptation Research Initiative in Africa and Asia (CARIAA), with financial support from the UK Government’s Department for International Development (DfID) and the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), Canada. The views expressed in this work are those of the creators and do not necessarily represent those of DfID and IDRC or its Board of Governors. We would additionally like to acknowledge the financial contribution of the four CARIAA consortia and the CARIAA Small Opportunities Grant that made this collaboration possible. Case study contributors additionally include S. Pillai, D. Solomon, E. Lawson, R. Alare, M. Angula, A. Sidibe, L. Camfield, P. Udas, N. Habib, J. Ferdous, C.V. Namchu, C.G. Goodrich, N. Khandekar, S. Badhwal, G. Gorti, S. Sen, N. Varma, Z. Babagaliyeva, M. Dime, M. Diop, A.N. Lázár and G. Prati.

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Authors and Affiliations



N.R. led the theoretical conceptualization of the key arguments. A.M. led the analysis using QCA methodology. A.P. coordinated the process and review of literature. C.S. coordinated the case writing, contributed to the literature review and put together the supplementary material and references. A.Q. and P.P. contributed text on the two pathways. K.V. provided implications of the cases and comments on the text and structure, and C.B. provided critical comments.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Nitya Rao.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Peer review information Nature Climate Change thanks Andrea Nightingale, Amy Quandt, Benoît Rihoux and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Tables 2–6.

Reporting Summary

Supplementary Table 1

Description of the 25 qualitative case studies

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Rao, N., Mishra, A., Prakash, A. et al. A qualitative comparative analysis of women’s agency and adaptive capacity in climate change hotspots in Asia and Africa. Nat. Clim. Chang. 9, 964–971 (2019).

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