There is no denying that climate change is affecting everyone on the planet- disproportionately, but everyone, either directly or indirectly. Unfortunately, marginalized communities, particularly women, endure the worst of the impacts.

Even in today’s modernized world, gender inequalities exist almost everywhere around the world. Pakistan is no exception to this global norm; the Global Gender Gap Index of 2018 ranks Pakistan at 148 out of 149, which is alarming and equally shameful. Gender inequality not only denies women of their voices and devalues their work but also makes their position lower to men at all levels- from a household, national to global. This disparity, along with degrading the status of women affects their ability to adapt to the impacts of climate change.

Most women, particularly those in the rural parts of Pakistan, have lower socioeconomic status. They lack education, economic resources, information, and freedom of choices. They are mainly involved in primary sectors such as livestock and agriculture and spend most of their days working for free for their household income or on minimum wages, often far below the national average. They also work as unpaid caregivers and providers of food and fuel. According to research, women carry out 2.5 times the amount of unpaid care work that men do, which globally accounts for USD$10 trillion a year. Women, due to their role in the society and dependence of natural resources are therefore far more exposed to the impacts of climate change. According to UNDP, women are 14 times more likely to die during a natural disaster. Women are also recognized as being poorer than men due to several socioeconomic, political, and cultural factors, and as a result, 70 percent of the world poor are women. Lack of economic empowerment prevents Pakistan women from adapting to the impacts of climate change, making climate resilience almost an impossible option for them.

Women are the most untapped assets when it comes to dealing with climate change in Pakistan. Unfortunately, we do not realize the potential Pakistani women can play, particularly in climate change adaptation. They have indigenous knowledge due to their daily exposure with natural resources and have a better understanding of their surroundings and what practical solutions are needed for adapting to the changing environment. Many examples exist in disaster-prone areas particularly in rural Punjab and Sindh, where women adapt to climate conditions by building small walls to protect their farms and houses from rising sea levels and floods, and water storage tanks on the rooftops to collect water from rain for drought seasons. UNDP also declares gender-responsive adaptation as a better approach as it allows sustainability of all the efforts and adaptation measures.

Climate change is one of the most complex issues of our time, which requires concerted, proactive, and holistic approaches to be dealt with. While a lot is being done to address the problems of climate change in Pakistan, it is essential to recognize gender inequality as a barrier to addressing the critical issue of climate change. Bridging gender gap is not going to be an easy task and would require global, national, and local efforts in education, health, income opportunities, and political inclusion. In the short run, the focus needs to be given towards skills enhancements of women, which would reduce their dependence from natural resources, allowing them to develop the profitable ability and improving their resilience.

There has also been growing international debate around gender inclusion in policymaking, particularly those that directly impact women. Even in the UN’s ongoing Climate Change Conference in Bonn, gender-inclusion has been a much-discussed topic. Patricia Bohland from German Environmental NGO, Life during the conference expressed her views on the need for reducing the gender gap in the decision-making arena and said, “Unfortunately very few women are seen in climate change ministries who are making policies, even in Germany. There is not enough representation, and therefore, the policies do not fully address the need of women, and as a result, the common woman continues to suffer.” Syeda Hadika Jamshaid, Mitigation Instruments Consultant for UNFCCC also recognized gender inequalities as an important barrier to addressing climate change and said, “Climate change needs to be addressed from all angles. From grassroots to decision-making, women need to be empowered and involved. Inequalities need to be reduced in all fields to protect our women.”

Government of Pakistan has been making consolidated efforts towards gender inclusion, particularly in the national policies. Gender has been mainstreamed at the policy level in Pakistan; National Climate Change Policy of 2012 and Climate Change Act of 2017 are addressing the issue of gender and climate change. Fortunately, for Pakistan, the ruling government of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf seems to be on a promising track and recognizes the role of women as an integral part in fighting climate change and appointment of Ms. Zartaj Gul as the Federal Minister of Ministry of Climate Change is a clear indication of gender inclusion at the decision-making level. Gender-inclusive climate change policies, along with implementation, can help us in protecting Pakistani women from the horrible unequal consequences of climate change.