​AKU celebrated the power of women in addressing climate change

This year the UN’s International Women’s Day, celebrated on 8 March, had the theme of “Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow”. Achieving gender equality is crucial to addressing the global challenges of climate change and environmental and disaster risk reduction. A sustainable and equitable future remains beyond our reach without accounting for gender equality today. This year’s theme aimed to recognize and celebrate women and girls who are leading the charge on climate action and honored their leadership and contribution towards a sustainable future.

Under the same theme, AKU organized a webinar to foster a discussion on gender equality and climate change. The panel included AKU’s diversity of voices, prominent academics and experts from Pakistan and East Africa, who shared reflections on the relevance and importance of this topic from research as well as operational points of view. The webinar was jointly organized by the Offices of HR communications and of Environment and Sustainability.

Climate change is not a gender-neutral crisis - women and girls face additional and unique impacts. Women continue to bear the brunt of the crisis all over the world – they are responsible for collecting food, water, and fuel but often lack property rights and decision-making powers. Research, including that carried out by AKU faculty, has found that women, especially from lower economic strata, are disproportionately affected by climate impacts, some of which are highlighted here: climate change directly affects agriculture and increases food insecurity for women, as traditionally, men and children are given priority on the food available; climate-induced weather changes leading to a wider dispersion of vector-borne diseases impact women’s health more as they harbor the primary responsibility to take care of sick in their homes while having less access to healthcare; after natural disasters, women require more rehabilitation support and are at a higher risk of physical and sexual abuse.

When discussing solutions, media’s role in breaking gender stereotypes and providing a diverse and balanced coverage of women’s narratives was highlighted. Furthermore, to improve communication around the issue and ensure that women’s voices are included and heard, women need to be actively involved in decision-making processes and promoted to leadership positions. It was discussed that men can and should also act as allies and stand in solidarity to support the cause of gender equality.

The webinar also encouraged people to ask the difficult questions which help uncover personal and socio-cultural biases which are often barriers to change. Moreover, initiating conversations with the men in charge by using a gender and human development lens can help challenge existing norms in society and spark engagement on solutions. Lastly, the webinar urged the audience to hold themselves and their institutions to account on the promises made to enhance progress on the front of climate change, gender equality and other related causes.

Both AKDN and AKU have made public commitments to the environmental sustainability agenda and are working to ensure that it is inclusive and cross-cutting. AKU is already advancing research and advocacy on climate change and its health-related impacts and is also making strides in reducing its operational greenhouse gas and overall environmental footprint.