Women and climate change: A perspective from Pakistan | By Dr Muhammad Mumtaz


Women and climate change: A perspective from Pakistan

CLIMATE change poses an unprecedented threat to all of humanity and it has emerged as the biggest health challenge of the 21st century.  In these perilous times, to effectively neutralize the effects of climate change many actions are being initiated from academic responses to business efforts from local to international levels.  The purpose of this article is to highlight and share the role of women in climate change policies so that policy-makers and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working on managing climate change could possibly engage women in forecasting and managing climate change impact and policy debate. Women’s role in climate change policies has duly been recognized across the world and deliberated in various leading academic forums such as conferences, journal articles and other international bodies working for climate change. However, there is a scarcity of literature on the subject, especially in developing countries context where women are hit hardest by climate change.

Pakistan has a population of over 224 million, with almost 50 % share of women and mostly the population is settled in rural areas; these areas are highly prone to climate change. Every segment of the society, particularly women, are being severely affected by the negative consequences of climate change. Women face higher risks and greater burdens due to climate change; these risks further exasperate in situations of poverty. In rural areas of Pakistan, women are engaged in the agriculture sector which is considered the most vulnerable sector to climate change.  50-80 per cent of food producers are women while 70 per cent of the livestock is managed by women in rural areas. The UN figures indicate that 80 per cent of people displaced by climate change are women.   It is therefore, women are at the forefront and they are the first to be affected by the brunt of climate change.

To effectively encounter the adverse effects of climate change, it is imperative to empower and prepare women so that they can effectively manage the impacts of climate change. Moreover, women’s participation may necessarily be ensured in decision-making processes and to engage women in climate planning, policy-making and policy implementation. In the Paris Agreement 2015 wherein the importance of involving women in the development and implementation of national climate policies is highly emphasized.  However, in Pakistan, the role of women in climate change governance is not yet fully utilized and there are many loopholes that are needed to be addressed on a priority basis so as to ensure the involvement of women in this important debate of the current time.

Pakistan is continuously experiencing the negative impacts of climate change such as heat-waves, flooding, unstable rainfall patterns and rise in temperature coupled with the loss of biodiversity and deforestation which made everyone including women vulnerable to climate change. Like any other country, Pakistani women being a major stakeholders can play a significant role in response to climate change, especially in the context of adaptation actions.

Pakistan’s main strategy to deal with climate change is adaptation measures which are locally driven governance initiatives where women can play an instrumental role. They are key to fixing climate change due to their local knowledge and their familiarity while handling and managing household practices in a sustainable way. It is, therefore, women are an important player in climate governance. Hence, women must be educated about climate and their meaningful engagement in the policy process and decision-making must be ensured to deal with climate change in an appropriate way.

Experts rightly emphasized the need for research and data gathering at local scales, on the effects of climate change on gender, to inform and make policy-makers realize and respond to the looming threat of climate change for vulnerable women. Previous disaster events in Pakistan had shown that women had been the most affected segment of society. For instance, in the floods of 2010, about 713,000 females between 15 and 49 years of age and 133,000 pregnant women suffered.    The scientific data and statistical observations will not only prove the on-ground realities of the strong linkage between women and climate change but will also help women’s emancipation and their effective contributions toward managing climate change. It is therefore important to recognize the role of women in climate change policies and action plans.

There is a need to launch an impactful drive for recognition of the role of women to confront climate change. Multiple civil society organizations, especially in urban areas such as LIFT Pakistan, are playing their role to highlight the importance of women to counter climate change through arranging various seminars and workshops on the subject in Islamabad. The LIFT so far has conducted 10 seminars to train more than 100 women in Islamabad to make them understand the phenomenon of climate change, its impacts and their role to face this issue.  This initiative appears a successful experience in engaging women to prepare women to mitigate climate change. However, there must be a replication of such steps at a massive scale especially in rural areas so that the mobilization of women for effective climate governance can be utilized.

There is a need to arrange consultative workshops across the country mainly at district and tehsil levels to engage women in order to make them understand their role in handling climate change through policy measures. Local institutions and district administration along with local and international NGOs such as United National Development Program can play a positive role in arranging such workshops and seminars. Moreover, the Higher Education Commission should encourage academic research and may dedicate special funds for women scholars or the projects which are being done on women and climate change research.

It is the responsibility of the media to highlight this important issue at a massive scale so that more people can be engaged in understanding climate change and realizing the role of women in tackling climate change.  However, public awareness about climate change is quite low in Pakistan as compared to other countries in South Asia. It is therefore, the media role is instrumental for women because they can be educated about the challenge and their role to deal with it.  The war against climate change cannot be fought without involving each and everyone, especially the meaningful participation of women.

There is a need to launch academic programs and courses on climate change in relation to gender. Having more women climate scientists and experts may allow for an increased emphasis on understanding and providing solutions for some of the most far-reaching implications of climate change. We must continue to highlight the links between women and climate change and efforts to address the impacts of climate change from the perspective of women.

Pakistan must move forward to curb climate change adopting the vision of its founding father Muhammad Ali Jinnah who had a strong believer in women’s participation in every sphere of life. “No struggle can ever succeed without women participating side by side with men. There are two powers in the world; one is the sword and the other is the pen. There is great competition and rivalry between the two. There is a third power stronger than both, that of the women.” ― Muhammad Ali Jinnah (Islamia College Lahore-28 October 1942). Let’s ensure women’s active involvement and due representation in climate policies and climate governance for sustainable development for future generations.

—The writer is working as Assistant Professor, at the Department of Public Administration, Fatima Jinnah Women University, Rawalpindi, Pakistan.

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