Women leaders discuss why women are the key to transforming society and helping communities become more climate resilient
by Sana Jamal
ISLAMABAD – Nowhere are the effects of climate change being felt as severely as in the developing world and women primarily are on the front lines of natural disasters and climate. But women, if fully empowered and supported, can become agents of change to deal with impacts of climate change and prepare to adapt to them.
These views were shared by most of the participants at a debate “Women and Climate Change” held at French Embassy in Islamabad.
“Women are primary victims of climate change, but also often the main source of solutions”, said Ambassador of France to Pakistan, H.E. Mrs. Martine Dorance.
In her speech, she underscored the need to “place women at the core of national and local climate strategies and at the heart of international climate negotiations”.
According to the UN, when a natural disaster strikes a region, the risk of death is 14 times higher for women, mainly because they are not targeted as a priority by disaster warning and prevention programs.
The debate addressing the vital link between gender equality and climate change was hosted by Ambassador of France to Pakistan on Monday to mark International Women’s Day after weeklong celebrations.
Speaking at the event, Senator Sherry Rehman highlighted the enormous risks climate change was posing in terms of daily security and resilience in Pakistan especially to women. She emphasized the need for a “national conversation” at the political and parliamentarian level on climate change, which would need to include women. Because when women lead in building communities, the whole region benefits, she said.
Major General Asghar Nawaz, Chairman of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), underlined the sheerness of the impacts climate change was having in Pakistan and its high vulnerability.
“Almost 75% of disasters (faced by Pakistan in last decades) were linked to meteorological causes” throughout the country such as floods, droughts, heat waves, glacier melting, avalanches and landslides. He insisted on the need to focus on the most vulnerable groups, particularly women, and on the importance of awareness and education. NDMA was strongly committed in that sense, was now conducting surveys with disaggregated data and had set up a special Gender and Child Cell.
Ms. Aisha Khan, CEO of the Mountain and Glaciers Protection Organization (MGPO), called for collaboration of civil society, government and private organizations to tackle climate change in Pakistan. She stressed that “climate risk management can never be successful without social equity, equitable distribution of resources and proportionate representation of women in decision-making.”
Two young and passionate women present at the debate were Ms. Aqeela Bano and Farman Ali, who have been trained in a skill development project of carpentry, masonry and electrification, developed in Hunza and Chitral by the Aga Khan Cultural Service (AKCS) with the support of the Embassy of France.
Ms. Aqeela Bano, Surveyor of the project spoke about the challenges and success of young entrepreneurs from her area and how their participation to the COP21 Climate Conference had given them new ideas of wooden house construction. She said “women can achieve anything they want”.
Ms. Samina Baig, first Pakistani woman to climb all seven summits in the world, gave her fist hand testimony of glacier melting in Pakistan. “I was surprised last year while climbing the K2, seeing that snow had barely frozen at 6000m above”, she said calling for attention towards the alarming situation.
Other outstanding Pakistani voices, like Dr. Shoaib Sultan Khan and Mr. Malik Amin Aslam also shared their views on the occasion.
The speakers and participants appreciated the role of the French embassy in encouraging climate change debate in Pakistan and making women a vital part of the discussion. “France is also helping to build scientific bridges, between, for example, the Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD) and Meteo France, and is in the process of helping to create a Pakistani IPCC,” the French Ambassador informed.
However, Mr. Ali Tauqeer Sheikh, CEO of LEAD Pakistan, regretted that the debate was not happening in the national and provincial Parliaments. He insisted on the importance of tackling climate change by including gender approaches to the policies.
The debate gathered representatives from the political world, parliamentarians, government officials, environmental experts, activists and members of the civil society, journalists, diplomats and UN representatives, as well as women representing the voices of the mountain communities.