In previous research on environmental change and adaptive capacity, significant attention has been paid to analyzing demographic, and economic factors (McLeman & Gemenne, 2018). However, a notable gap exists in understanding the factors that shape individual decisions and behaviors (Van Praag et al., 2022). While there is a growing body of evidence suggesting that farmers' decision-making is more influenced by their beliefs and values than by the physical impacts of climate change, the predominant focus of research on farmers and climate change has been on assessing the tangible risks associated with a changing climate. It is crucial to grasp the concept of risk perceptions since they serve as the foundation for both the preference to take action in response to climate change and the specific information individuals rely on or require in order to initiate such actions (Steynor & Pasquini, 2019). There has been relatively less empirical research that delves into how social factors, such as the influence of agricultural advisors, shape farmers' beliefs, actions, and their perception of climate change risks. Thus, the exploration of the social factors driving environmental change and the reasons behind farmers' inaction in response to such changes remains an understudied area in this field (Petersen-Rockney, 2022). This paper serves as a comprehensive exploration into the intricate interplay of environmental risk and gendered experiences of them. It delves into the essential role of perception, specifically risk perception, and its relationship with gender in shaping adaptive capacity and resilience amidst environmental transformations (De Longueville et al., 2020). While existing research has examined general environmental beliefs and behavioral intentions, there remains a notable gap in understanding the nuanced differences in how men and women perceive environmental change and its consequences (Black et al., 2011). This void is significant given the complexity of environmental challenges, which demand a deeper examination of the factors influencing human responses, especially through the lens of gender.

The subjective nature of risk perception is shaped not only by objective factors but also by cultural, social, and gendered experiences (Adger et al., 2009). These perceptions play a pivotal role in shaping individuals' and communities' willingness and ability to adapt to environmental shifts, thereby influencing overall resilience (Koubi et al., 2016; Van Praag et al., 2022). Importantly, the role of gender in environmental decision-making and resource management is highlighted in this article, reflecting the complex socio-cultural landscape within which perceptions are formed and actions are taken in the Moroccan context.

Furthermore, the heightened vulnerability of women to the adverse effects of gradual environmental changes, particularly in rural communities, underscores the urgency of addressing gender disparities in climate change discourse (Bossenbroek et al., 2015; Chindarkar, 2012; Enarson, 2006). Insights from historical and contemporary studies shed light on the evolving dynamics of women's decision-making authority, symbolic power, and economic agency within familial and societal structures (Chekroun, 1988; Martenson, 1979; Mernissi's, 1988; Salime, 2020). These narratives not only illustrate the persistence of patriarchal norms but also reveal emerging patterns of resistance and empowerment among women across different socio-economic strata.

Gender Dynamics: Implications for Climate Risk Perception

According to Martensson (1979), the distribution of decisional power among women correlates with their socio-economic status: those belonging to higher social strata tend to wield greater influence compared to their counterparts in lower categories. In an early study of gender and power in the Moroccan rural context, Martensson argued that remnants of traditional familial structures endured predominantly within middle and upper echelons of society, where there existed a vested interest in their preservation. This included patriarchal dominance, spatial segregation, and hierarchical arrangements based on age and gender (cited by Salime, 2020 p. 396). Thus, Martensson’s research sheds light on the intricate relationship between socio-economic status, gender dynamics, and decision-making power among women, which can significantly influence risk perception and climate adaptation strategies. Firstly, her findings regarding the correlation between socio-economic status and decisional power among women highlighted the importance of considering socio-economic factors in understanding risk perception. Women from higher social strata may have greater access to resources, education, and information, which can shape their perception of environmental risks differently from women in lower socio-economic categories. This variation in risk perception can influence the prioritization of climate adaptation measures and the allocation of resources towards resilience-building efforts. Secondly, Martensson's observation of resistance to traditional norms among younger and more educated women suggests a shifting paradigm in gender dynamics and decision-making processes, reflecting a growing recognition of the importance of gender equality and the need to challenge and overcome entrenched stereotypes and biases. Thirdly, her exploration of the impact of urban migration on rural women's socio-economic status underscores the intersectionality of gender, migration, and environmental vulnerability. The transition from rural to urban settings can disrupt traditional roles and livelihoods, altering women's risk perception as they navigate new socio-economic environments. This highlights the importance of considering migration patterns and urbanization in understanding gender differences in risk perception and adaptation strategies. Finally, Martensson's findings on women's economic empowerment through waged employment suggest that economic agency can influence risk perception and adaptation decision-making. Women who have access to paid work may have greater autonomy and resources that enable them to adapt to environmental changes, potentially affecting their perception of risk and their ability to implement adaptive measures.

However, Chekroun (1988, cited in Salime 2020) challenged Martensson's assertion regarding the lower decisional power of illiterate women within familial structures, by highlighting the strategic utilization of cultural practices by women to assert authority and influence within their communities. Chekroun's emphasis on women's symbolic authority and their strategic mobilization of cultural practices stressed an important dimension of gender dynamics with greater influence in risk perception and climate adaptation strategies. By challenging the assertion of low decisional power among illiterate women, Chekroun underscores the importance of recognizing the diverse forms of influence and agency that women exert within their communities (see Salime, 2020 p.367).  This suggests that women's roles in shaping perceptions of environmental risks and adaptation strategies may not solely depend on formal decision-making power but also on their own cultural authority and social influence. Moreover, Chekroun's exploration of "feminine culture" and women's engagement in revenue-generating activities demonstrates how cultural practices can shape gendered roles and responsibilities, impacting risk perception and adaptation behaviors. Women's involvement in economic activities, particularly within the context of traditional gender roles, may influence their perspectives on environmental changes and their ability to implement adaptive measures. Similarly, Salime's (1999) examination of small businesses managed by migrant women and former slaves sheds light on the role of economic empowerment in shaping gender dynamics and adaptation strategies. Women's participation in entrepreneurial endeavors can enhance their socio-economic status and decision-making autonomy, potentially influencing their perception of environmental risks and their capacity to adapt to climate change.

Transitioning to a macro-level framework, Mernissi's (1988, p.313-325) proposition of women as intermediaries between public services and the family reflects the evolving socio-economic landscape and its implications for gendered responses to environmental challenges. Mernissi argued that the traditional patriarchal authority was being supplanted by the influence of the welfare state, attributing this shift to capitalist transformations that disrupted traditional familial and tribal ties. This perspective of women's increasing involvement in public spheres and decision-making processes may contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of climate risks and adaptation needs within communities. Furthermore, Mernissi's challenge to prevailing discourses on femininity and her emphasis on women's labor and economic contributions underscore the importance of recognizing women's diverse roles and capabilities in climate adaptation efforts. This scholarship highlights the need for gender-sensitive approaches to risk assessment and adaptation planning that take into account the varying experiences and perspectives of women across different socio-economic conditions. Overall, these insights contribute to a broader understanding of gender dynamics, risk perception, and climate adaptation strategies by illuminating the complex interplay between cultural practices, economic empowerment, and socio-political structures. Integrating these perspectives into climate resilience initiatives can lead to more inclusive and effective strategies that address the diverse needs and priorities of women in climate-vulnerable contexts.

Environmental Change, Agriculture, and Adaptation in Morocco

In Morocco, a country heavily reliant on agriculture, the expanding reach of desertification and droughts due to climate change has made people's adaptive abilities closely intertwined with aspects like land ownership, sales, mortgages, and agricultural products (Adger et al., 2018). As demonstrated by Bossenbroek et al. (2015), the historical development of family farms within state cooperatives underscores how the allocation of individual land plots has intricately woven issues of land ownership into wider networks of household, kinship, and community-based gender dynamics. This has manifestly influenced marital and labor arrangements, as well as membership regulations and inheritance practices, all of which reflect gendered social relations and dependencies associated with land (Bossenbroek, 2016; Salime, 2016). Concurrently, these dynamics have played a pivotal role in shaping gender-responsive strategies in the domain of environmental change. My research conducted in the Souss-Massa region of Morocco is centered on Amazigh women residing in rural locales. Moroccan Amazigh women present an intriguing case study within the context of rural marginalization, experiencing a compounded form of marginalization owing to their gender, Indigenous heritage, and geographical remoteness (Ou-Salah et al., 2023). This multifaceted marginalization significantly impedes their access to fundamental social services such as education and healthcare. Notably, a substantial portion of Amazigh women inhabit rural or geographically isolated regions, which engenders formidable obstacles in their pursuit of public services, chiefly attributed to inadequate infrastructure and prevailing levels of rural illiteracy (Guerch, 2015). Conversely, their urban counterparts experience relatively more favorable access to education and public amenities and tend to exhibit greater proficiency in Moroccan Arabic, the primary administrative language alongside the Amazigh dialect (Berriane et al., 2015; Ennaji, 2014). Additionally, the patriarchal societal structure constitutes an additional hindrance to educational opportunities for rural Amazigh women, as cultural norms often dissuade the enrollment of girls in formal education due to entrenched traditional beliefs concerning gender roles and constrained family resources and geographical isolation (Laghssais & Comins-Mingol, 2021). While numerous academic inquiries have depicted these women as illiterate and almost devoid of agency, it is imperative to recognize their key contribution to their communities. They discharge household responsibilities, actively contribute to the  preservation of their community’s cultural heritage and development, leveraging their knowledge and expertise in various domains including setting up carpet weaving cooperatives , and argan oil production (Laghssais & Comins-Mingol, 2023).

While rapidly changing natural environments severely impact rural communities in many of parts of Morocco,  these changes are especially felt in places deeply dependent on water and rain availability (Born et al., 2008; Khattabi et al., 2014). During the 1980 and 1990s severe draughts threatened the livelihoods of farmers and pastoral communities primarily reliying on the grazing of livestock  (Mohammadi & Khanian, 2021). Vulnerability to  to environmental risks can act as a driver for adaptive resource management by these communities. The impact of environmental change   on cropping and livestock systems is multifaceted – i.e. temperature rise, irregular precipitation rates, sea level rise– and proppels the restructuring of existing agricultural activities (Ait Houssa et al., 2017; Aoubouazza et al., 2019; Khattabi et al., 2014). For instance, global warming implicates that crops like bananas and avocados would be easier to grow in more continental regions, while olive and citrus trees are expected to move towards the foot of the mountains. While changing precipitation rates in water -intensive farming incuding rice and sugarcane could push the farmers to adopt more  efficient and lucrative crops (e.g. diversifying their crop choices and adopting more efficient agricultural practices and implementing techniques such as drip irrigation)(Ait Houssa et al., 2017). Adaptation strategies such as the purchase of cereals or crops, the installation of water pumps, the search for a different source of income and  migration could also be a response to environmental threats (Adger et al., 2003; Ait Houssa et al., 2017). However, people's ability to anticipate, plan for and adjust to environmental change is highly contingent  upon their perception of risk, the safety net they can rely on, as well as land tenure, and their access to information and capital (Barnett et al., 2008; Jha et al., 2017). Thus, understanding the farmers' perceptions of climate change is essential for a more efficient, socialy situated, and gendered specific response to  environmental change that forgrounds the  intricacies of cultural, economic and ecological factors.  The nuanced ways in which men and women experience and respond to environmental risks is key for building specific policies that address environmental challenges while acknowledging their differentimpact in diverse social contexts.  

Gendered representations of environmental change

The rural population in Morocco numbers thirteen million people, representing forty per cent of the country’s inhabitants; women make up half of that (IMF, 2019). In the context of Morocco, by the IPCC indicate that by the year 2050, the country will witness an increase in slow-onset  environmental changes, which involves increasing temperatures, approaching 1.2°C  and droughts due to decreasing precipitations averaging 10.6% by 2050

For my research in the Souss-Massa region, I conducted interviews  with farmers in these the Sous-Massa region in the south west of Morocco, namely in Houara, Tiznit, Belfaa, Tamraght, Tagadirt, Tikouine, Taliouine, Taroudant, and Imouzer. I conducted biographical-narrative interviews to elicit spontaneous autobiographical accounts (Ou-Salah et al., 2023) by men and women about their representations of environmental change. I asked participants to articulate their perceptions of environmental changes in the context of changing dynamics of labor and migration, as main features in the Sous-Massa region.  

The Souss-Massa region, is highly significant in the Moroccan economy, through its numerous contributions with marine resources, tourism, and agribusiness. Yet, despite its proximity to the Atlantic coast and High Atlas Mountains, this southern region grapples with an arid climate due to the high pressure near the Azores islands, in the North Atlantic Ocean, known as the Azores Anticyclone. Thus, for over three decades, the Souss-Massa region have suffered substantial transformations driven by environmental variability, shifts in the social and environmental landscape, and intensive land and water usage for an export-oriented farming  (Bouchaou et al., 2011). Women in the Souss Massa region may be more likely to experience economic vulnerability, leading to a greater fear of not making ends meet (Ou-Salah et al., 2023).


Soraya, a 36-year-old woman from Tiznit, started her professional journey as a farmer contributing to her family's agricultural activity. When I met her (in October2021,) she was navigating a new phase of unemployment which propelled her poignant reflection on the devastating impact of climate change on her region.  She pointed to “the extreme and erratic shifts in precipitation patterns which resulted in severe floods on the one hand, and droughts, on the other.” These climatic challenges have placed “significant strain” on the community, leading to “a decline in agricultural production, to food insecurity, and periodic hunger,” as she put it.

43-year-old Hafida, shed light on the multifaceted challenges faced by her community to sustain a viable agricultural activity.  Hafida resides in Taroudant, some 100 miles North- west of Marrakech and make a living by engaging in small-scale farming activities.  She expressed a profound connection to the land and a dedication to what she called “sustainable agricultural practices.”  She highlighted other aspects of climate variations including the proliferation of pests and diseases, which have led to the extinction of certain crops, including cactus fruits in Morocco. She stated: “These climatic shifts not only reduce crop diversity but also necessitate time and resources for the introduction of new crops, posing significant hurdles in the community's efforts to adapt and sustain their livelihoods.”

Yosra, a 35-year-old female living in Taroudant. She also engages in small-scale farming but underscores particularly the profound impact of drought on livestock. She linked drought to shortages in animal feed and hardship in maintaining livestock production:

Crops, pastures, and animal feed have all been affected by persistent droughts. We can no longer provide food for our animals. I had to sell a few cows because I couldn't feed them adequately. In some cases, I see the opposite happening, with people buying more livestock because they no longer earn enough from their crops. However, these individuals often receive support from others [members of transnational migration networks] or have slightly more resources than we do, for example (Yosra, 2021).

Women's narratives about the impacts of environmental changes on household food security and health issues may reflect their strategic utilization of cultural practices to prioritize family well-being. Women's engagement in revenue-generating activities may be influenced by cultural norms and expectations regarding their economic participation and contribution to household livelihoods. Therefore, women's narratives may place greater emphasis on the immediate consequences of environmental changes, such as pests, diseases, and hunger, reflecting their intimate involvement in agricultural activities and their role as caretakers within the family. Their perception of risks may be influenced by their cultural roles and responsibilities, leading to a focus on issues directly impacting household well-being.

Men's discussions tend to be more focused on the broader economic implications of environmental change and their effects on prices, production, and financial responsibilities. Rachid, a 45-year-old male residing in Taliouine is an expert in saffron cultivation and production. Rachid's dedication to his craft not only sustains his livelihood but also contributes to the preservation of the rich cultural heritage of the region, centered partly in Saffron production. He illustrated the profound impact of drought on the region's environment and livelihood. He highlighted the disappearance of once-flowing rivers and the subsequent decline in irrigation opportunities, and consequently the reduction in crop production, causing substantial losses for the local community:

In this region, drought results in reduced availability of water sources, such as rivers, lakes, and groundwater. You can see, [points] here used to be a river, and you can still see traces of it, but it's completely dry now. As children, we could even swim there. This lack of water also limits the possibilities for irrigation, which is crucial for crop growth. As a result, crop production has been decreasing for years. This leads to significant losses as yields decline (Rachid, 2021).

Remarkably nearly all the men in the sample consistently discussed prices and production decline as a consequence of environmental change. More specifically, they pointed to the impact of environmental changes on the fluctuating prices of essential goods like crops, food, and energy.  Mouloud, a 39-year-old resident of Skoura, explained how rising temperatures exacerbates draught despite occasional rains, since they accelerate water evaporation from the soil depleting crops of essential moisture. Mouloud’s life journey exemplifies some of these farmers transition from farming to working as guides in the tourism industry.  

Rachid and Mouloud may feel more responsible for providing financially for their families, as indicated by their focus on prices and production. This focus could be influenced by gendered market dynamics, where men traditionally hold more power and authority in economic decision-making processes, even when women are the primary producers. Their concerns are more centered on sustaining livelihoods and mitigating economic losses caused by environmental changes.

Zahra, a 42-year-old female from Tamait, was a small farmer before transitioning to a wage labor on a raspberry farm. Zahra's journey delineates the adaptive agency of rural livelihoods, and the global patterns that transforms farming community, notably women into a cheap labor force for industrial farming.  She offered a striking account of the shift in labor patterns and the gendering of industrial farming that started to dominate labor activities in this region, since the 1990s.  She underscored the “oppressive labor conditions and health risks, particularly for older women, and those with pre-existing medical conditions.” More particularly she stressed “the vulnerability of these women to the heat, to pesticides, under extended hours of sun exposure.”  Zahra articulated her distress about witnessing “heat strokes, severe cases of dehydration and related medical symptoms.”

Kaltoum, a 51-year-old resident of Tiznit shared her experience working in a French-owned industrial farm and claimed to have developed breathing problems and asthma like symptoms. She said:

That dry air really leads to an increased concentration of dust in the air. I can truly feel that my breathing problems were generated by these labor conditions. I am quite confident that I must have some form of asthma, my lungs are becoming very sensitive, and I quickly develop breathing issues. I started to feel very dizzy when I stand in the sun for extended periods of time even when we cover our heads, it does not really help us because we often have a very dry mouth, and no matter how much we drink, we still feel thirsty (Kaltoum,2021).

These findings resonate with Salime's study (2022) on mining and resistance in Morocco, where women's experiences of environmental degradation and violence were intimately linked with their bodies and emotions. Just as the women in Zahra and Kaltoum's narratives spoke about the embodied effects of pollution and the health implications for themselves and their families.

Land tenure, gender disparities and perception of climate change

Several women indicated that patriarchal regimes that exclude women from land tenure and ownership are an important reason why they are largely overlooked in agricultural policies. The land tenure system in Morocco encompasses five distinct categories, each exhibiting unique characteristics and administrative peculiarities. These categories include privatized, titled land (referred to as "melk"), religious land endowments (habous), land allocated to military personnel by the monarchy (guiche), collective tribal land held in trust by the state (soulaliya or jema’a), and state-owned land. Notably, melk constitutes privately held, titled land, accounting for a significant portion of Morocco's total landmass, particularly in the agricultural sector (Balgley, 2015, p. 5).

In this paper, our focus will be on the category of "melk," as our study involved conducting interviews with small-scale farmers working on private property in the Souss-Massa region. The lands classified as "melk" are regarded as private properties, as "etymologically, 'melk' signifies ownership" (Filali-Meknassi, 1991: 13). Typically, ownership is substantiated through a simple property deed, known as "moulkiya," drafted by two Quranic scholars, or "adouls." In practical terms, this entails the consistent and continuous possession, or "istimrar," of a piece of land. (Mahdi, 2014, p.2). Since, under the current law, male relatives receive twice the share of a woman, these provisions of family law on inheritance are particularly unfavorable to female children and surviving female spouses and increase economic instability (Yavuz, 2016).

Importantly, however, the Qur'an and the Sunnah describe clearly that although women do not really have equal rights to men in terms of inheritance, they do have special rights related to inheritance, dignity, and custody of the children in the family (Haque et al., 2020). Specifically, Islam secures their financial rights, which must be handled by a legal guardian (father, brother, or husband etc.) and as a mandatory responsibility in all circumstances of their lives (e.g. financial support, of a daughter by the father, of a married woman by her husband, of an orphan by her grandfather or paternal uncles). However, research by Haque et al. (2020) shows that in Muslim societies, these Islamic principles are often violated in practice, especially in the issue of how to divide the inheritance among the heirs after the death of their parents. Thus, despite women's significant role in agriculture, these institutional mechanisms perpetuate gender inequality in land ownership and decision-making processes as stated by several participants:

We women start off at a disadvantage compared to our brothers, for example. Here, men still prefer to have sons so that they can pass on everything. It is very difficult for us women to inherit and especially in agriculture, this is a big disadvantage because then it is literally all about what we have put so much work into that then goes to brothers or sons who often invest much less time in it. But I know that the law will never change, but because I only have daughters, I am sometimes afraid of what the future will bring (Fedoua, 2021).

It becomes evident that Fedoua, who actively engages as a small farmer, confronts challenges linked to unfavorable inheritance laws and gender disparities in agriculture, which limit her options.

In contrast with Fedoua, Daoud, who balances his roles as a small farmer and beekeeper, highlights the economic constraints associated with climate change adaptation while also possessing the option to potentially sell land:

For us, agriculture has been unprofitable for a long time due to everything becoming more expensive, including the rising costs of irrigation, energy, and the expenses associated with using gasoline for our engines. As a result, we simply do not have the resources to adapt to drought and climate changes and we can work less and less of our land. I have already received a few requests from investors to buy our land but that is also complicated to do [referring to shared land with brothers] (Daoud, 2021),

His privileged access to land and resources increased his choices and opportunities addressing environmental change (how does he addressed them by selling land, it is rather an exit strategy. While my respondent, Daoud, may also face economic constraints associated with climate change his perception of risk may be influenced by different factors compared to Fedoua. As landowners with the potential option to sell land, men may prioritize economic considerations in their risk perception. For example, they may be more concerned about the financial implications of declining agricultural yields or increasing input costs. In addition, their risk perception may also be shaped by considerations of property value and investment decisions related to land use. Research conducted in agricultural communities experiencing climate change impacts found that male landowners tended to focus on economic risks, such as crop losses and income fluctuations, in their risk perception. This focus on economic factors often led them to prioritize short-term profit-maximizing strategies over longer-term adaptive measures, such as sustainable land management practices (Muneer et al., 2023). By examining the experiences of individuals like Fedoua and Daoud within the context of gender dynamics and socio-economic constraints, we can better understand how these factors influence risk perceptions of environmental changes. These examples illustrate how gendered inequities in access to resources and decision-making power shape individuals' perceptions of environmental risks and their adaptive responses in diverse contexts.


This study explored the intricate relationship between societal gender constructs, environmental change, and individuals' experiences and perceptions of environmental change. It underscored gendered specific vulnerabilities and distinct experiences of environmental challenges by men and women. Through in-depth interviews conducted in the Souss-Massa region of Morocco, I elucidated the disparities in men's and women's perceptions of environmental change and their social location in relation to it. One key finding of this study is that women tend to emphasize the interconnectedness between climate change, food insecurity, and health challenges more prominently than men. Secondly, the study revealed that men often focus on prices, production, and financial responsibilities, highlighting their internalization of their perceived roles as providers, even when women are also engaged in paid labor. Lastly, the different experiences and narratives of men and women also highlight the different priorities that women bring to climate adaptation discussions. Their intimate knowledge of agricultural practices, caregiving roles within the family, and economic contributions position them as essential stakeholders in resilience-building efforts. This gender-specific analysis of perceptions of environmental change provides valuable insights for the formulation of targeted policy interventions that foregrounds resilience in the face of environmental challenges for both men and women.


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