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Gender Inequality: An Unuttered Dimension of Climate Change in Pakistan

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Today, the world is facing the catastrophic events of climate change and Pakistan is not an exemption. Currently, we are living in a climate crisis affecting everyone but not equally and climate is also not gender neutral. Gender and development are deeply correlated with climate change but this dimension to resolve climatic issues remain unexplored by the policy makers, environmentalists and analysts in Pakistan. Intergovernmental panel for climate change (IGCC) issued report on alarming situations of global warming would increase temperature by 1.5 ̊ C; negatively impacting water and food security, infrastructure, health, livelihood and well-being of people, especially the global south. In global south, rural areas are affected more and in rural areas women are the ones who are widely affected.

Likewise, Pakistan is more vulnerable due to its geographical location and continued experiencing of variability in patterns of monsoon, liquefying of Himalayan glaciers negatively impacting Indus river system causing flooding in Indus Belt and drought in remote areas due to decreased capacity of water reservoirs like dams, canal systems, irrigation systems etc. Experts are stressing on degradation of ecosystem, loss of bio-diversity, saline water and soil erosion ae the problems that require immediate attention to avoid reduction in agricultural productivity and economic disruption.

According to Global Climate Risk Index 2020, Pakistan moved from 5th to 8th in the list of countries that are highly affected by climate change and encountered 173 freak weather events from 2000-2019 with the loss of 0.52% in GDP annually with 0.3% causalities par 100,000 inhabitants. Right now, Pakistan is witnessing severe heat waves, land sides, smog in winters, forest fires and displaced population with 10% of total population has been displaced in Punjab and Sindh. In the above-mentioned scenarios, Karachi is most vulnerable due to costal area and ranked 136th out of 140 cities in the degree of vulnerability. The Arabian Sea has been heating up with average temperature of 29 ̊F to 31 ̊F in last two years which has ignited furious storms that push back the sea into coastal areas where the population of almost 16,459,000 is living in low lying coastal areas of Sindh. Despite the steps are taken by the government’s ‘billion tree tsunami’ project, clean green Pakistan, citizen engagement program, Pakistan national drought plan, national biodiversity, strategy and action plan - to mitigate climate change, but these programs sometimes are ‘mal-adapted’ because of improper fund allocations and neglecting the gender injustice by the policy makers of Pakistan.

In some cases, climate change is defined as contributor of gender inequality and cannot be fixed until social justice is not attained. Pakistan’s ranking of gender inequality remain one of the lowest in the world. Furthermore, climate change heightens gender injustice as it reduces women’s ability to become financially independent, especially in rural areas of Sindh and Punjab.  Costs of climate issues are unequally distributed as marginalized people are vulnerable to environmental issues and women, particularly the rural women have to bear the maximum cost due to socially constructed gender roles as they have to collect water, woods for fire and are expected to take responsibility of other routine chores.

In Pakistan, women depend on natural environment for income as 60-70% of farmers are women and natural calamities further constrain their access to already restricted physical, social and fiscal resources burdening women more than the men. Poor rural women of Sindh have to spend whole day in the fields as sharecroppers and face discrimination since they are paid less than the men.

The women are traditionally not trained in disaster mitigation and have to bear the brunt of natural calamities with more casualties as compared to the men. Gender based violence, rape, child abuse, sex trafficking  and other sexual assaults make women more vulnerable and powerless. Climate change is also not so gender neutral due to neoliberalism and patriarchal society of Pakistan which deepens the social inequalities, consumption or over exploitation of resources which lies at the heart of environmental problems that are being faced today.

Gender injustice is not only a physical reality but it is also seen in policy making and negotiations over environmental issues as men are dominant in climate change debate at the local as well as the global forums. Therefore, ‘gender-transformative’ climate change is necessary. There is urgent call for social and gender equality and reforms to address climate issues. Several IGOs, NGOs, INGOs are playing crucial role in promoting feminist agendas in national and international environmental action plans which is considered as a new normal. Consequently, a fundamental shift would be seen from women vulnerability to usage of women knowledge and capacity in policy making. Women are the major players in voicing climate change since there cannot be climate justice without a gender justice.

Unfortunately, in Pakistan feminist dimension of climate change remains underdeveloped, little or no work has been done to address climate issues in the context of gender and development.  Even though Pakistan is the major advocator of climate change and highlight the issue at every international forum and most recently. Pakistan was invited to Climate Leader’s Summit hosted by President Joe Biden but failed to address gender development issues. All these efforts are in vain as long as government does not put feminist agenda at the core of the environmental issues. Oxfam’s WE-Care program is working on 4 R’s (recognition, reduction, redistribution and representation) in Pakistan through the establishment of women kitchen garden, water governance and other burden sharing tasks, where women are the focal point so that they get a voice in policy making.

It is proclaimed that environment degradation as an existential threat to women rights. Present and future human well-being depends on social, gender and environmental justice. If full gender lens is applied, reforms can contribute to alleviate climate change and enhance gender equality in the sector because prevention is better than cure. Hence, future transformational steps demand the application of intersectional approach, compare and contrast different socio-economic, cultural systems focusing to strengthen of women rights. There is also an urgency to avoid illusions and ensure transparency in decision making of environmental civil societies, NGOs, pressures groups.