COP28 is well underway, with world leaders gathering in Dubai to discuss their plans to deal with climate change. In previous years, the conference has been a male-dominated affair – despite the evidence that women are disproportionately impacted by climate change. Shabnam Baloch, the International Rescue Committee’s Country Director for Pakistan, is hoping to change that.
This year, she’s attending COP28 to advocate for the communities hardest hit by the climate crisis, as well as highlighting the critical role of women leaders in driving climate progress. Here, she pens an exclusive essay for GLAMOUR about why women’s leadership is vital for building climate resilience…
Following the catastrophic flooding which devastated much of Pakistan in the summer of 2022, 35-year-old Lakshmi recalled how her home and village were destroyed. As her community struggled to rebuild after the climate shock – including ensuring access to clean water and sanitation – she noticed how the women of her community faced very different challenges: from a lack of menstrual products to a heightened risk of violence. “We would always worry about young girls and women going to the fields by themselves to find a private space to relieve themselves,” she remembers.
As the first female Country Director for the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Pakistan, I have seen first-hand how extreme weather widens existing gender inequalities and poses unique threats to women’s health, livelihoods, and safety. This comes as a growing climate justice movement – led by youth, women, and activists from across the Global South – is seeking acknowledgement that those who have contributed the least to climate change are suffering the worst of its effects.
Studies show that women and children are 14 times more likely to be killed by a disaster. As climate change is increasing the frequency and severity of natural disasters, the gap in addressing the needs of women and girls when we respond and adapt to climate emergencies is becoming more apparent, and more urgent.
“When a climate shock hits, many families tend to feed women and girls last. And pull them out of school first.”
Economically, women are much more likely to depend on livelihoods that are most threatened by climate change. In many areas of the world, women make up the majority of smallholder farmers – so when crops fail from droughts or floods, they have fewer resources to feed and care for their families. Furthermore, when a climate shock hits, many families tend to feed women and girls last and pull them out of school first. This spiral of crises tragically also means that gender-based violence becomes a greater risk as poverty increases. The IRC saw first-hand a dramatic increase in child marriage in Bangladesh in areas that were highly disaster-prone and climate-vulnerable.