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FEATURE: Climate change and women – A view from Pakistan


Climate change is gravely affecting women, says Syed Abubakar. He reports on an expert roundtable on ‘Gender and Climate Vulnerabilities: Future Directions for Policy Research and Action’,  organised by LEAD Pakistan, in collaboration with CDKN, OXFAM Novib and National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) in Islamabad.

An expert discussion in Islamabad highlighted that climate change is most likely to have unequal gender impacts. It’s critical to empower women, to deal with extreme weather events. But it’s unfortunate that they are the least priority. Last year, about 1,500 people including many women died in a Karachi heatwave (at least partly) attributed to climate change.

Today, when climate change is adversely affecting the quality and quantity of our most precious resource, water – its implications directly affect rural women, who have to spend hours to fetch water for household needs.

Experts rightly emphasised the need for research and data gathering at district level, on the effects of climate change on gender, to inform and make policy-makers realise and respond to the looming threat of climate change for vulnerable women. Of course, sustainable, environment-friendly development is only possible through gender sensitive reforms and approach. Surely, women must have forums to voice their needs and demands, and inform on how the havoc of climate change affects their lives. Women should be the part of the solution, by involving them in policy engagement, formulation, discussion and initiatives on climate change.

Experts argued that voices of women should be raised at the policy level and various platforms should be established where their concerns can be addressed. It was also discussed that there’s a need to promote sustainable development which will have lesser impacts on the environment and adopt the gender lens as women do get affected due to unsustainable developments, therefore should be made part of the solution by engaging them in policy formulation and discussion.

Refreshingly, Major General Asghar Nawaz, Chairman, NDMA, urged participants to vow for an integrated approach, which will help empower Pakistani women, who are disproportionately vulnerable to the effects of natural disasters and climate change, where their rights and socio-economic status are not equal to those of men,, build resilience against extreme climatic conditions.

Ali Tauqeer Sheikh, CEO, LEAD Pakistan and Director Asia, CDKN, highlighted that how climate change is affecting the poorest of the poor and said, ‘the world is grappling with two challenges. First is poverty, as half of world’s population is below the poverty line, whereas the second is climate change. After COP21, if the world successfully limits global warming to 1.5°C, Pakistan will experience up to 3°C rise in temperature, which will further make our population vulnerable to the impacts of climate change’.

My travel to Darkut valley, located in Ghizer district of Gilgit-Baltistan last year, revealed this worrisome fact that most of the men go out in search of livelihoods, leaving women behind to take care of children and elders, and most importantly they are left vulnerable to bear the impacts of Climate Change in the shape of Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOFs), flash floods, cloudbursts and land sliding, in this valley categorised by NDMA Winter Contingency Plan, as ‘one of the most vulnerable’ for floods, avalanches, landslides, and Glacial Lake Outburst Flood (GLOFs). Loss of livelihoods and increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events has triggered migration from Darkut valley to other areas.

The point is clear that women stand on the frontline of climate change. Their resilience to bear its impacts may be limited, but it can be built, if an integrated approach to adapt and mitigate climate change is adopted. It’s high time that we understand issues faced by them, and help in empowering them to be part of the solution. Voices of women need to be raised and heard.

The writer is Associate Coordinator Communications at LEAD Pakistan and an international award-winning environmental writer with an interest in climate change, deforestation, food security and sustainable development. He tweets @SyedMAbubakar

The original version of this article appeared on the LEAD Pakistan website here.

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