Women and climate change


In the recent years, the phenomenon of climate change has exacerbated the situation in the mountain valleys of Hunza and Nagar districts of Gilgit-Baltistan, adding in the frequency and impact of natural hazards. They’re inevitable; albeit anticipating and pre-planning to cope withthe aftermath is way better than remaining oblivious of Nature’s wrath

In recent years Government and Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) have played a vital role in disaster and post-disaster risk management, actively engaging in emergency and rehabilitation and initiating micro and macro initiatives to strengthen the disaster resilience among the vulnerable communities of the region. It has been very important to engage the rural women both at the community and household levels and disaster preparedness as the women and children are amongst the most vulnerable groups.

However, simultaneously sensitive gender and age groups including women, children and elderly group are most vulnerable and at risk during natural disasters. A few months earlier, a 75 year-old woman named Bibi Khunzoik died by slipping through the planks into the deep waters below, while crossing the a wooden hanging bridge over Hunza River . In the face of such challenging circumstances, a faster increase in the mobility of women than of men has been observed. Although, the implications of climate change-related migration are not clear, but it is apparent that it is necessary to be gender sensitive not only in the investigation of mobility, but in any policy interventions relating to it. In 2007, a study conducted by London School of Economic shows a sample taken up to 141 countries over the period 1981 to 2002, natural disasters and their subsequent impact, on average, killed more women than men or killed women at an earlier age than men related to women’s lower socio-economic status. Disasters such as droughts, floods and storms kill more women than men due to structural gender inequalities.

The cultural constrains i.e. outfits; long hair and low literacy rate further make women ill protected. Furthermore, women are also prone to the post natural disaster risks i.e. sexual harassment. As pointed out by C. Sapir in “Women’s Health in Natural Disasters: A Vulnerability Analysis”:

“After the natural disasters, women are usually under the threat of sexual harassment. Chaos, insecurity, problems in social relations, and the pressure on women for providing food and settlement in emergencies can result in their sexual abuse and threat of the sexually transmitted diseases. The impact of these events can bring many negative consequences in the long-term.”

Essentially, the role of women ranges from teaching safety measures at homes to identification of hazard risks in the locality to identification of various vulnerabilities and high risk elements in the community. The areas in which women can be actively engaged includes; preparing family level disaster plans, evacuation of vulnerable individuals first including children and elderly aged groups, during disasters.

A joint step has been taken by WWF-Pakistan and ICIMOD through implementation of action research under the framework of Himalica Programme in selected villages of Hunza and Nagar districts (Gilgit-Baltistan) to identify households prone to the constant threat of climate induced natural disasters. During this action research, women from selected households will be educated in financial literacy for flood preparedness through training, meetings and workshops under the capacity building component of the research i.e. a step towards engaging women in disaster preparedness.

The role of women at household level was always and has become highly prominent in recent years as she is the one who remains at home and manages all incoming resources according to the needs of a household. If this key role i.e., women can be trained as sustainable manager, then many of the challenging factors can be easily surmount, may it be resource management or preparedness against climate change impacts. Proposed financial literacy trainings engaging females at community level are expected to help them wisely manage their household income, devise strategies through which they can efficiently manage their household budgets and other commodities, add income sources for their families by availing livelihood opportunities at their door steps and most importantly saving 10-15 percent of the total remittances received for times of disasters. Communities are appreciating this initiative because it is one of its kinds that will help strengthen the vulnerable communities, especially rural women to cope with the situations of disasters at their own. As an outcome, females will be trained on how can they make their families resilient against disasters and how would they devise plans of evacuation and safety in terms of any abrupt disaster as pre, mid and post disaster preparedness planning schemes.

Although, it seems a bit difficult to motivate communities, which are already living with meagre resources and limited cash or remittances, to save still a part of their income for disasters. However, once the set targets of savings are achieved, a significant uplift in the preparedness level against climate change impacts will be observed then. Hence, if encouraged and educated enough, would be a solid step towards making the vulnerable communities resilient and prepared against any future natural calamity. Courtesy: Pakistan Today

Dr Babar Khan is Senior Conservation Manager/Head (Gilgit-Baltistan) World Wide Fund for Nature Pakistan. He can be contacted at bkhan@wwf.org.pk

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