Madiha Latif, June 2022
Pakistan has currently found itself amid a heat grip, recording temperatures touching 49°C and impacting food and water resources across the country.
While the country must deal with resource insecurity and increased negative health impacts due to the heat and struggles to adapt, the disproportionate impact climate change has on women and girls is ignored and overlooked – both in responses and in preparedness planning.
Research underscores the need to approach climate action from a gendered lens. Importantly, to achieve climate justice is to recognize and adapt strategies that are gender equitable and community-driven. Women and girls are more likely to die, suffer mental health issues and are more susceptible and vulnerable to violence, as a result of climate disasters. Patriarchal conditions also prevent women and girls from gaining equal access to resources such as food, water, health and education. These inequities are further exacerbated during climate disasters.
In Pakistan, women’s contribution to the agricultural sector – which is the livelihood of 60% of the country’s population – often goes unnoticed and unpaid. Further, laws and norms deny women land ownership and economic rights. In climate-affected conditions, this results in increased multidimensional poverty. Increased investments in the sector are discussed as a needed strategy, but focus majorly on subsidies and do not take into account small-scale farmers that are most in need of support. Much-needed policy amendments are not focused on, and debts related to agricultural production are set to increase given the lack of attention paid to small-scale rural farmers.
As we are faced with the anticipation of food shortages for this year, actions and responses must consider the health impacts of these changes, particularly on women and girls.
Cultural practices already create discrimination in terms of nutrition and food access in Pakistan. Women and girls suffer from the double burden of malnutrition, repeated births and thus, increased vulnerabilities to mortality and long-term morbidity. Situations of depleted resources would result in women and girls having the least access to food sources.
Increased burden of disease due to poor nutrition will also adversely impact children and women. For instance, a recent outbreak of cholera has shown potential linkages with the early summer and high temperature Pakistan is experiencing since March 2022. Limited access to reproductive/maternal neonatal child health services is also compounded by social stigmas associated with sexual and reproductive health. Therefore, it is imperative that our health systems are strengthened to prepare and respond to upcoming maternal and neonatal child health issues, exacerbated by extreme climate conditions.
Pakistan is looking to face extreme climate change conditions which demand the state to respond in a holistic, integrated manner. While there is recognition of the urgent need to respond, the discourse and development of an intersectional approach towards adaptation and mitigation are still at a nascent stage. We need to build in a strategic direction that takes into consideration gendered implications of climate change, deepening our understanding of the different financing, policy, and development practices that are needed for addressing needs on ground.