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Women and climate change

Women and climate change

By: Syed Muhammad Abubakar

Women constitute almost 49 percent of the population of Pakistan. According to the Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey 2012-2013, there are 102 males for 100 females, thus urging the need to empower women when it comes to education, employment and political and social life.

However, when women’s empowerment is denied, it makes them weak and vulnerable, even to the slightest of changes. The global phenomenon of climate change, which has made the population of Pakistan vulnerable to floods, cyclones, glacial lakes outburst floods (GLOFs), cloudbursts, reduced food supply, sea intrusion and water scarcity, has gender differentiated impacts. According to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), almost 70 percent of the world’s poor are women, and climate change is pushing them further below the poverty line.

In Pakistan, where the agriculture sector is being affected by climate change, it adversely affects rural women, whose livelihood and routines, such as travelling long distances often to fetch water, will be affected by depleting water resources. This complicates the situation, as socioeconomic and political barriers, cultural norms and ignorance infringe the capacity of rural women to cope with such challenges.

It is not only rural women, but also women who live in highly urbanised centres who are bearing the brunt of extreme weather events. The Karachi heatwave of 2015 is one example, in which more than 1,200 people died of dehydration and heat strokes, as sweltering conditions engulfed the city for a month. This year as well the threat of heatwaves is imminent in Karachi.

A visual guide published by the Leadership for Environment and Development (LEAD) Pakistan and Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN), titled ‘Karachi 2015 Heat Wave: A Visual Guide’ gave an overview of last year’s heatwave in Karachi. The report quoted the Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA), saying that 60 percent of people died in their homes. Both LEAD Pakistan and the CDKN are assisting the government of Sindh and relevant authorities to facilitate Karachi in heatwave management planning.

The visual guide gave useful measures to protect us from heatwaves. Some of them include avoiding strenuous activity, wearing appropriate foot wear drinking chrysanthemum tea (a cooling herb), having small meals but often, avoiding a high protein diet and running cold water over the wrist for five seconds now and then to cool the blood in the main vein. These measures can save vulnerable populations, especially elders and urban women, from the impacts of heat wave.

Furthermore, a study led by the Social Policy and Development Sector (SPDC) titled ‘Gender and Social Vulnerability to Climate Change – A Study of Disaster Prone Areas in Sindh’ highlights the vulnerability of the rural women of Sindh to changes in weather patterns. The SPDC report confirms the deplorable conditions of women in rural Sindh by reporting how the women of Dadu district, who used to practice fishing, net-weaving and other fishing-related activities, do not enjoy such economic opportunities anymore, as the population of fish has considerably decreased due to shifting weather patterns. Thus, their roles are now largely confined to domestic tasks.

The report also discusses how women in Khat Lashkar village, Dadu district used to work with men in agriculture but due to changes in weather patterns, their roles are now limited because of the decline in agricultural productivity. Changes in weather patterns have affected their economic freedom.

The report also points towards the worsening situation in Tharparkar, where water scarcity has affected agriculture and water is not available even for household chores. This has forced women to fetch water from wells located at long distances, consuming an average of about five hours daily. Often, this water is not safe for drinking, which leads to water-borne diseases among women and children. Furthermore, carrying heavy pots of drinking water on their heads on a daily basis has led to hair loss among women.

There is an urgent need to involve women in climate adaptation, such as training them to protect themselves from heat waves and addressing water scarcity by promoting rainwater harvesting. Women are the agents of change who can effectively combat climate vulnerabilities. Another important task is to make their voices heard at the policy level; the establishment of relevant platforms can help achieve that.

Climate compatible development is the right direction and will help build women’s capacity to address the issue. Furthermore, in order to ensure the climate adaptation of women, the government should segregate data on a gender basis, which can help target women in policymaking effectively. Moreover, access to technology and finances is important in training rural women to adapt to changes in climate.

Gender-sensitive strategies are essential to respond to the environmental and humanitarian crises caused by climate change. If effectively trained, the women of Pakistan are resilient enough to adapt to changing environmental realities, and can contribute to the cause of climate change adaptation and mitigation. This will eventually help us to raise a better generation, one that is well equipped to deal with climate change.

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