Even as climate change is affecting everyone on the planet observers have noted that some are harmed disproportionately, especially marginalised communities and in particular women. According to research, women carry out 2.5 times the amount of unpaid care work that men do, which globally accounts for $10 trillion a year.
Women, due to their role in the society, are far more exposed to the impacts of climate change. From sexual violence, to extra farm work, to greater risk of illness, women shoulder a bigger burden owing to exacerbating weather and other forms of climate change.
The World Health Organisation says this leads to more health problems and malnutrition for women when compared to the men. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature underlines that women and children die 14 times more than men during disasters.
Indeed, Pakistan is no exception to discrimination against women, and if anything the gap here is much wider than most parts of the world.
Pakistan is especially vulnerable to climate change, as exhibited by the annihilation witnessed in the 2005 earthquake and the heavy floods in 2010. Global Climate Risk Index 2021 ranks Pakistan among the most affected countries, both short and long term.
A 2019 Oxfam study by Oxfam notes that owing to the growing problems of water in the coastal districts of Sindh, women are forced to cover an average distance of two kilometers to obtain it. According to a 2016 UNICEF research, females spend 200 million hours or 22,800 years collecting water every day. “It would be like a woman in the Stone Age starting with an empty bucket and carrying water to this day but did not reach home,” says Sanjay Vajsekara, head of UNICEF’s Global Head of Water and Sanitation Hygiene.
Climate change also affects the health of pregnant women, while natural disasters ruin women’s employment opportunities, especially when it comes to picking cotton across Sindh. An estimated 2.6 million women in Pakistan’s nine largest cotton-producing districts are involved in cotton picking, but do not get the full fruits of their labour.
“Power and gender inequalities combine to deny these women access to healthcare, education and employment opportunities. And increasingly, climate change is presenting a new set of challenges for rural women, undermining livelihoods and exacerbating food insecurity,” notes Oxfam communications manager Shiza Malik.
According to a 2016 UNICEF research, females spend 200 million hours or 22,800 years collecting water every day
Many women in Sindh have also complained of severe back pain, headaches and hair loss from the excruciating drill of carrying heavy metal pots full of water on their heads. The exhausted women spend their nights struggling to get some rest in limited privacy, whilst continuously worrying about defending their families and themselves from the threats of wild animals, snakes and malaria and dengue-carrying vectors. An increase in the regional temperature of Pakistan is also accompanied by an upsurge in vector-borne diseases.
There is evidence that the effects of climate change differ from the point of view of adaptability, vulnerability and mitigation. Experts have urged the government to prioritise a policy that acknowledges that women and men witness different effects.
Activists maintain that if women are widely involved in the implementation of this policy, only then all stakeholders will have effective representation in decision making.
“Gender-responsive policymaking, such as legislative drafting and innovation, can be provided with training courses. Yet, centralising it as a norm is a long-term task and also a culturally challenging process,” notes political scientist Fatemeh Kamali-Chirani.
Following the 18th Amendment, the Provincial Disaster Management Authority is primarily responsible for formulating and implementing policies that could examine and cater to the vulnerabilities shrouding women in times of disasters.
Observers say provinces should use the National Climate Change Policy, 2012 (NCCP) as a catalyst for mainstreaming problems experienced by women due to climate change.