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Empowering Women, Building Climate Resilience: Pakistan’s Path Forward

Empowering Women, Building Climate Resilience: Pakistan’s Path Forward

Empowering Women, Building Climate Resilience: Pakistan’s Path Forward

Empowering Women, Building Climate Resilience: Pakistan’s Path Forward

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As the devastating impacts of climate change continue to unfold across Pakistan, one sobering reality emerges: the burden falls disproportionately on women and girls.

According to the Sustainable Development Policy Institute, women in Pakistan are 14 times more likely to die during natural disasters than men. This staggering statistic highlights the deeply entrenched gender inequalities that exacerbate the vulnerabilities of an already marginalized population.

The devastating impacts of last year’s floods in Pakistan were dreadful. The catastrophic event inundated a third of the country’s territory, impacting a staggering 33 million people, including an estimated 8.2 million women of reproductive age.

Furthermore, the flooding destroyed over 2,000 critical health facilities, crippling the country’s ability to provide essential medical services. The United Nations Population Fund estimates that around 650,000 pregnant women and young girls were affected by the devastating 2022 floods in Pakistan.

With the onset of the monsoon season, the looming threat of another major disaster adds layer of challenge to the ongoing recovery efforts. Women and girls, who already face disproportionate burdens during crises, are particularly vulnerable to the compounding effects of these climate-fueled calamities.

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Fozia Hanif, the Manager of Programs at Bhittai Social Watch & Advocacy (BSWA), a non-governmental community development organization, emphasizes the disproportionate impact of the crisis on women and girls. With her extensive experience working as a field force during the floods of 2022 and 2023, Fouzia has witnessed firsthand the challenges faced by women and girls in these crises.

“During times of crisis, women’s workloads often increase exponentially as they shoulder the responsibility of providing food, water, and care for their families,” she explains. “The loss of arable land and livestock due to floods forces many women to walk longer distances to collect these essential resources, exposing them to greater risks of injury, harassment, and sexual violence.”

Fozia further highlights the disruption of educational opportunities, stating that “the disruption of educational opportunities disproportionately affects girls, as families may prioritize sending boys to school over girls. This perpetuates the cycle of gender inequality, further limiting women’s ability to access economic opportunities and participate in climate adaptation and mitigation efforts.”

Moreover, Fozia emphasizes the immense hardship faced by women in the temporary settlements. “The lack of privacy, clean water, and proper menstrual hygiene management in these temporary settlements creates immense hardship for women, compounding the trauma of displacement. Unable to access essential sanitary products and with limited access to healthcare, their physical and mental wellbeing is severely compromised, further limiting their ability to rebuild their lives in the aftermath of the floods.”

Despite these formidable obstacles, women in Pakistan are emerging as powerful agents of change. Across the country, women are taking the lead in community-based initiatives to build climate resilience, from establishing early warning systems to promoting sustainable agriculture and renewable energy solutions.

Mehak Masood, a climate adaptation specialist, outlines the key obstacles to ensuring equal access to resources, services, and economic opportunities for women after climate disasters in Pakistan.

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“One of the main obstacles is the deeply entrenched patriarchal norms and cultural practices that relegate women to subordinate roles and limit their decision-making power, even in times of crisis,” Masood explains. “Women often face significant barriers in accessing critical assets like land, livestock, and finances, which are essential for rebuilding their livelihoods.”

Masood also highlights the lack of gender-responsive disaster management and climate adaptation planning. “Disaster relief and recovery efforts frequently overlook the specific needs and vulnerabilities of women, failing to provide adequate access to sanitation, hygiene, and reproductive healthcare services in emergency shelters and camps. This can exacerbate risks of gender-based violence and have long-term consequences for women’s physical and mental wellbeing.”

To address these root causes, Masood emphasizes the need for a multi-faceted approach. “It is crucial to invest in women’s leadership and decision-making roles, implement targeted social protection programs, and challenge patriarchal norms through community-based awareness campaigns and advocacy.”

By tackling the systemic barriers to gender equality, Masood believes that women in Pakistan can participate as equal partners in shaping a more resilient and equitable future for their communities.

By supporting women as agents of change, Pakistan can tap into a powerful resource for climate adaptation and mitigation. When women are given the tools and opportunities to thrive, they can be the driving force behind sustainable development, innovative solutions, and community-level resilience.

The path to a climate-resilient future for Pakistan must be paved with gender equity and the recognition of women’s central role in safeguarding the well-being of their families and communities.

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