The greatest ecological and environmental challenge of our time is climate change, whose effects in the form of droughts, floods, extreme weather, the outbreak of diseases, growing water, and food insecurity disproportionately impact the world’s 1.3 billion people. Women form a huge chunk of this estimate; approximately 80% of women are displaced by climate-induced calamities, as per the 2015 UNDP Report.
Across the world, climate change impacts men and women differently, particularly due to their gender-differentiated relative powers and the associated responsibilities and roles at both household and community levels. That said, the unequal access to varied opportunities, which includes education or their representation in the political processes, elevates the existing discrepancies resulting in further marginalisation of women. The case of Pakistan is no different, as the gender disparities are acutely prominent, making the community all the more vulnerable to the challenges posed by the changing climate. Not surprisingly, though, women belonging to or living in rural areas witness the effects of the changing climate more intensely, as the assigned traditional roles exacerbate their vulnerability. The competition for accessing natural resources like water and firewood heightens their burden while simultaneously increasing the responsibility of conducting household chores.
A study conducted by Oxfam in 2019, titled Climate-Induced Migration in Pakistan, assessed the water crisis in the coastal districts of Sindh. They observed that the local women are forced to cover an average distance of two kilometres to acquire water from wells and hand pumps every day or sometimes multiple times in a day. Similarly, the changing climate aggravates the prevailing gender inequality while financially side-lining the communities, depriving them of basic opportunities and needs. Thus, poverty, coupled with political and socio-economic marginalisation, collectively puts women in a disadvantaged position for coping with the adverse impacts of climatic hazards.
A multi-pronged approach to address the inequalities in resource access can be established, which includes credit, providing training services to women in the rural areas, and information and technology. Formulating gender-aware responses will mitigate or limit the effects of the changing climate.
So far, the response towards addressing the challenges posed by the changing climate is lukewarm. By 2050, Pakistan’s population will surge past 300 million people, as predicted by the United Nations. These statistics appear alarming in the light of the projected food shortage, tropical diseases, floods, and the unbearable rise in temperature. The associated effects will leave women all the more vulnerable, forcing them to devise adaptive strategies.
At the policy level, the collection of evidence-based data will equip the stakeholders in bridging the gap. In disaster-prone areas, women are adapting to the changing environment, particularly in the rural localities of Punjab and Sindh. Women tend to build small walls to protect their farms from rising sea levels and floods. Therefore, establishing gender-responsive adaptation strategies will alleviate the daily struggles that women in the rural areas go by. A multi-pronged approach to address the inequalities in resource access can be established, which includes credit, providing training services to women in the rural areas, and information and technology. Formulating gender-aware responses will mitigate or limit the effects of the changing climate.
Nevertheless, the current government of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf continues to emphasise increasing the initiatives to mitigate the effects of climate change. It is promising to see the Pakistani leadership adapt to the changing realities and be prepared to overcome a crisis. For the policymakers, it is important that the development planning and funding initiatives reflect the priorities of women. There is a need to conduct a robust sensitisation campaign at national and local levels to inform the challenges that the respective communities might face in the near future. It is imperative to provide solutions for strengthening the adaptative mechanisms while conducting capacity-building initiatives. The government must ensure gender-sensitive investments in climate governance.
On the other hand, the prevalent economic, social, and cultural barriers must be constrained to cater to the growing vulnerabilities. Mainstreaming a gendered perspective into the established national policies and strategies will be a step in the right direction. Most importantly, public policies need to be more issue-oriented rather than generalised as they tend fixating power and gender relations. Women are seen as dispensable commodities, and the exploitation of the country’s natural resources remains unchecked. Society must be made aware of the ways in which women are sacrificing their basic needs to serve their families – willingly or unwillingly. Climate change and the calamities that continue to unfold in the world are not gender-neutral, and it is time to see the challenge from a woman’s eye.