Children riding in boats waving to shore
Sreyvatey, 14, and her classmates travel on boats to raise awareness about climate change and the environment in their community on Tonle Sap Lake, Cambodia. | Credit: Linh Pham/Save the Children

Focusing on Agency can Strengthen Social and Behavior Change Programming to Support Climate Adaptation

By Rachel Taylor, Piyush Kumar, Courtney McLarnon

Agency is a critical component of individual and collective ability to adapt and respond to changing social, cultural, and environmental circumstances, and has the potential to strengthen resilience to shifts in external conditions. A better understanding of agency through a gendered lens will enable health-focused social and behavior change (SBC) programs to produce transformative results that strengthen everyone's capacity for climate change adaptation.

Strengthening climate change adaptation and resilience is a priority for many countries concerned about the harmful effects of climate change on human health. SBC strategies, such as targeted education, strategic communication, and community mobilization programs, can help communities adapt and build their resilience to climate change. 

SBC programs can encourage individuals and communities to recognize and address climate-sensitive health risks like increased malnutrition, changes in the geographic range and incidence of vector-borne diseases, and the direct effects of extreme weather events. When SBC programs help individuals or groups become aware of their ability to make choices, set individual or collective goals, and take action to reach those goals, they build participants' agency. 


Children marching in protest over climate change
Children in Jakarta, Indonesia, march and carry a 200-meter banner created in pieces by children from four continents to speak out about the climate crisis.

Using the Evidence

Research suggests that climate shocks and stressors compromise women’s and girls’ agency, driven in many contexts by resource scarcity, with women and girls experiencing higher levels of food insecurity than men. Agency may also be affected by differential coping mechanisms that reflect existing power structures; for example, whereas men may migrate, women may bear increased household responsibilities

Emerging evidence also suggests that climate change exacerbates existing vulnerabilities, particularly for women, necessitating the consideration of intersectional factors such as race, caste, age, and class in climate adaptation strategies. Unequal gender norms may restrict women’s access to assets and livelihoods in resource-deprived contexts, leading to negative effects on their health and well-being. In rural areas of southern Bangladesh, for instance, gendered access to local markets has resulted in female-headed farmer households relying primarily on informal social networks for agro-meteorological information, limiting the adaptation strategies available to them.

While there is increasing attention to how gender, climate, food security, and health intersect, there is still limited information about how SBC programming can support gender equitable decision making and collective action in adaptation and resilience to climate change. 

Generating New Evidence

USAID’s Agency for All, a five-year global health project, is working to generate evidence on the role of agency in effective SBC programming to improve health and well-being for individuals and communities while advancing cross-sector development outcomes. With support from USAID’s Office on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment, Agency for All is embarking on a two-year effort to build evidence on the relationships between agency, gender, and climate change adaptation to inform agency-centric SBC strategies and improve future climate change adaptation programming. 

The project invites contributions to these efforts and to learn alongside the program over the next two years to help answer key questions: What role does gender play in shaping agency in individual or collective climate change adaptation efforts? How can social and behavior change strategies enhance individual agency and collective action in combating climate change?

To share an innovation from a USAID-funded project that is centering issues of agency and gender in the climate and health sectors or to participate in an interview or consultations to provide input to emerging findings, contact Agency for All.

Strategic Objective
Adaptation, Gender and Social Inclusion, Health, Locally-Led Development, Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning
Headshot of Rachel Taylor

Rachel Taylor

Senior Global Health Advisor, serves on Save the Children’s Climate Change and Health team, where she supports adaptation and mitigation actions to protect human health and nutrition from the effects of a changing climate. Rachel joined Save the Children in 2010 and has provided leadership and technical support to community health systems strengthening and maternal, newborn, and child health programs and initiatives. She has worked in Kenya, South Sudan, and Uganda, and has partnered with colleagues in Azerbaijan, Colombia, Egypt, Ethiopia, Guatemala, India, Laos, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, Somalia, and other countries to protect and improve health.  Prior to Save the Children, Rachel worked for International Medical Corps. She began her public health career at the Venice Family Clinic in Los Angeles, CA. Rachel earned a Climate Change and Health Certificate from Yale University in 2023, became a Master Naturalist in the U.S. state of Maryland in 2019, and holds a B.A. in Anthropology from Grinnell College.

Piyush Kumar

 Sambodhi Research & Communications Pvt. Ltd., India

Courtney McLarnon

Center on Gender Equity and Health, University of California San Diego

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