The Climate & Gender Game

The Climate & Gender Game
14 August 2012

The Climate & Gender Game

While there is growing consensus as to the differential impacts of climate change on the most vulnerable, the fact that women and girls are differently affected  remains an under- and often over-looked issue that may indeed hold the key to resilience in communities around the world. The Climate Centre has been piloting the use of games to more effectively communicate climate science both within the humanitarian sector and among an expanding horizon of innovative partnerships for climate risk management. With co-game-designer Janot Mendler de Suarez, the Climate Centre’s Pablo Suarez has been testing the use of experiential learning games to build collective intelligence and enhance the uptake of climate science in stakeholder-driven consultative processes around issues of climate-compatible development. The husband & wife game-design duo was invited to invent a game for PopTech’s February 2012 Climate Resilience Lab in Nairobi, organized with support from the Nike and Rockefeller foundations to explore the role of women and girls in community-based adaptive development strategies.

With support from PopTech and the Red Cross Climate Centre, Janot Mendler de Suarez worked with the Kenya Red Cross (KRC) to design a game that staff and volunteers could use to open conversations about gender implications of climate change with rural farming communities.  Existing gender asymmetries include land ownership (over 90% of the land belongs to men), and unequal access to credit or fertilizer, which often accrues lesser benefit to women from farm work than their male counterparts. In discussion with Red Cross leadership and staff from drought-stricken districts, the game designers also learned that when crops fail and no savings are available, farming families must put their last assets, their children, to work – and this can have very dire consequences, consequences that are markedly different for girls vs. boys. Kenya is experiencing more extreme flooding as well as drought, sometimes in the same district or at the same time in different parts of the country, so while the game was developed to be piloted with a farmers co-operative in the village of Matuu, where KRC has introduced drought-resistant cassava as an alternative to maize, the game also simulates intermittent flood risk.

In the game, if a player wants to protect against drought, s/he must invest in planting cassava; if more concerned about flood washing out their crops, players can choose to invest in planting flood-tolerant rice; if they prefer to instead take their chances and hope for good rains, players can plant maize at no cost (“from saved seed”) – so the message is that correctly choosing to be prepared can guarantee you a crop even if disaster strikes, but it requires taking the risk of investment. Each round of the game is a planting season, and the roll of a die determines the rains: 1 is too little rain – drought (if you didn’t plant cassava you’re in trouble!), a 6 is too much rain – flood (anyone who didn’t plant rice will pay dearly to feed their family this round), and any roll from 2-5 is good rains, all crops yield a harvest. After a few rounds, once players have begun to figure out the probabilities and weight their risk vs. investment based on the historical probability of rainfall represented by the dice, climate change is introduced. A truncated cone replaces the die, the difficulty of interpreting the probability of how it will land – on the small base to indicate drought vs. the large base for flood or rolling on it’s side for good rains represents quite well the uncertainty of rainfall under current (changing) conditions. After a couple rounds, when players are comfortable with the mechanics of the game, to even better represent reality, a new twist is introduced: gender inequality.

The designers infused this planting decisions game with the ‘broken’ element of gender differences by randomly assigning fictional gender roles: those given a brightly coloured bracelet to wear play as ‘men’, all those with no bracelet play ‘women’ and find themselves starting the game with fewer beans – the currency of the game – and as the game plays out women reap a smaller harvest than the fictional men. After a couple rounds, the national issue of teenage pregnancy is introduced via random distribution of a handful of necklaces. Players of either gender wearing a necklace discover they “have just become a grandparent”. Now if planting decisions do not match the roll of the rains, players with a grandchild have to pay one additional bean to feed their family that round.  After prizes are distributed, to the one player with the most beans and to the co-op team which lost the fewest farmers to the city by the end of the game, players are encouraged to share their feelings about the game, to discuss how they felt about the gender roles, what the game revealed that was surprising or concerning, and what they see as the root causes and possible paths to solve their specific climate-related problems.

The Kenya Red Cross is now planning to train facilitators to use this game to deepen understanding within affected communities about climate risk strategies to cope with the changing weather patterns affecting agriculture and to open deep discussion about the differential implications and life-choice consequences of the additional pressures driven by climate change for women and girls vs. men and boys.

Please go here to see the video (scroll down to bottom page).

CDKN also published this on their website: