THE BLOG
07/15/2013 12:41 pm ET Updated Sep 14, 2013

Rural Women in the Global Fight to Combat the Climate Crisis

"Flood water is coming... where are you?"

I could only imagine the feelings and fear of a housewife when, standing in between the rising water, she would have phoned her husband. She was perhaps not allowed to leave home alone due to cultural norms. Perhaps she would be thinking more about her belongings, livestock and for sure her little children than the risks of coming flood. She would have certainly no idea how massive the flood would be unlike the past.

All I recall my memories back in 2010 when I was interviewing a flood affected government employee in the KPK province. "I didn't make much attention to my wife when she called me at office." These words made me think of hopelessness a woman in our society can have during disasters. She was waiting for her husband to reach town immediately and help the family members rescue from rising water.

You might have heard similar stories in your own context, but thousands of real-life stories have remained unvoiced in this part of the world. When the world talks about climate change as a topic of global consensus or facts of science, many of us perhaps undermine those norms, cultural practices and grass root realities which a woman has to face above all those scientific arguments.

Life for many rural women in Pakistan is not that easy. When the world talks about human induced climate change, women in Pakistan still consider an extreme weather their own fate and nobody's fault. This ignorance double their vulnerabilities when some cultural norms don't allow them enjoy their independence.

If a woman is provided with a narrow circle to live in, climate change becomes a real life threat for her. It is when a little girl is not allowed to go school or a woman not free enough to leave home alone at the time of disaster. This makes me realize a new form of unnoticed deniers in our society, although different than those in the developed part of the world where they are called "climate skeptics."

When Malala -- an education activist, was shot in the Swat valley by extremists naming her a threat to "local culture", many people thought certain elements doesn't want girls to attend schools. In fact, the thoughts of Malala are not only limited to girls' opportunity to go schools, but are mainstreamed into more responsible culture of awareness and knowledge of their rights. Thus her efforts also apply for rights of women to get educated and learn about a safe environment as well. This is evident from the reality that if women will have no knowledge about science and human-induced climate change, they will not be able to realize how different factors are affecting their lives and their environment. As a result, the situation will keep them in a culture where they accept disasters as their punishment which they can't revert.

The story of a housewife with her frantic calls to husband not only shows her fear while in danger. It touches upon some real facts of poverty, poor health and gender disparities which our rural women often live with. Women in many parts of rural Punjab province, for example, work all the day in brick kilns. Their work in heat-stressed environments continues so they can earn and try to survive from the vicious cycle of poverty. Their families borrow some amount of money from owners and all the time struggle to earn and replay the debt. The increase in daytime temperature makes them more vulnerable to heat strokes and unable to earn sufficient money per day of their work. With all their efforts they are still unable to earn $2 per day. Poverty continues with gender disparities and part of the world doesn't relate to it with growing carbon pollution. Children of Kasur in Punjab province, for example, who work in brick kilns and tanneries are often working without three time proper food during 24 hours.

In some hilly areas of KPK province, women collect fuel wood and fetch drinking water from hill springs. In past decade, many areas are now facing decline in underground water. Deforestation in this area together with less water availability have made women travel more and far to fetch water and collect fuel wood. There have been a few cases in the Galliat region of KPK province, when wild animals attacked women and killed them when they were collecting wood for fuel, or fodder for their livestock.

Women in Pakistan, during the 2010 flood, were solely dependent on their family members or external assistance to evacuate them from flood water. Many families preferred to stay at home, despite the flood danger, because they had no alternate source of earning and survival. In many areas, access to flood forecast information to women was through men. Although we have the government's department which can timely communicate early warnings in case of heavy rains or possible floods, women in many rural areas do not have direct access to information. Despite the good resilience among women in Pakistan and their potential to exploit ideas for climate change adaptation, inability of women in many rural areas to access vital information and communication tools obstruct them practice effective adaptation measures.

The National Climate Change Policy of Pakistan focuses on climate change adaptation and promotion of sustainable economic growth. However, without empowering women and without helping them challenge all those disparities, the policy will remain ineffective. It's time that both the international community and local governments give priority to gender mainstreaming and women empowerment in their global fight against climate crisis. This is not just the case for Pakistan, but for many states and communities around the globe.