Erasing South Asian Women Activists Won't Help the Climate Crisis
Climate change is one of the greatest worldwide challenges to exist in the twenty-first century. People are impacted differently based on differences such as age, income and location, but one of the most significant factors relates to gender differences. The climate crisis continues to both contribute towards and be exacerbated by deep-rooted global injustices, with women often at the forefront due to gender inequalities. Women in every part of the world are vulnerable to the effects of climate change due to social and cultural attitudes and economic environments.
Despite their disproportionate sufferings, it is women, alongside members of Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPoC), LGTBQIA+ and disabled person communities, who are continuously denied the opportunity to effect change regarding the issue of climate change.
Last years’ United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), saw yet again a huge lack in the representation of women across all boards, with less than 25% of influential positions held by women. An overwhelming amount of positions were held by white males, failing to represent the world in one of the greatest global crises.
Despite this lack of representation at an international level, the voices of women are unparalleled and offer perspectives that are comprehensive and necessary.
Sunita Narain and Malala Yousafzai are two women leading the charge
Sunita Narain, a Delhi-based writer and environmentalist has worked with the Centre for Science and Environment since 1982 where she currently holds the position of Director General as well as Editor of the Indian magazine ‘Down to Earth’, which is committed to changing how our environment is managed through new perspectives and knowledge.
Narain’s research has played a significant part in informing some of the major climate policies in India, especially the current water crisis. She has often voiced her opinions on how to manage the issue of water scarcity so that it becomes a resource that is no longer scarce in India. Examples of these ideas can be found in her co-authored book: ‘Making Water Management Everybody’s Business’.
Another woman who continues to campaign for the climate crisis is Malala Yousafzai, an activist from Pakistan. Whilst her work primarily focuses on female education, the Malala Fund often reports on how closing gender gaps in education is necessary to help countries decrease the effects of climate change.
This report described how leaders at COP26 need to improve the education of girls across all countries and systems so that all students have the knowledge and skills to challenge the socio-economic inequalities contributing towards the climate crisis.
Malala’s fund continuously strives to uplift the voices of women all across the world and especially focuses on young women as the future of our world. In 2017, Huda Ahmed spoke about the inspiration that she took from Malala and her work. Ahmed was just 13 when Malala had received the Nobel Peace Prize and remembers this exact moment: “seeing this 17-year-old muslim girl from a country in a similar state as mine, fighting for the rights of education for all, inspired me”.
Women like Malala offer representation to younger girls, proving to them that their voices and opinions are just as valuable as everyone else’s. After seeing what Malala had achieved, and resonating so strongly with her message, Huda began working with local NGOs to create change in her community and support the lives of others. Her passion and leadership put Huda in a position to win the Malala Yousafzai Youth Leadership Award and now Huda also acts a role model and figure of inspiration for the next generation to create positive change within our planet.
The Malala Fund publication frequently calls on young women from all different areas of the world to speak on various issues, and how they are particularly affected by things such as climate policies. With the voices of young women and girls from areas such as Malaysia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Ethiopia, and the UAE, the Malala Fund makes the conversation of climate change accessible to all different types of women and girls, which is a strong contrast to the conversation led by men in positions of power.
Women deserve a seat at the table
The fact remains that women from all walks of life experience significantly more suffering from the impacts of climate change due to the historic gender inequalities that exist. Despite this, female leaders make up less than a third of the roles in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Paris Agreement.
Women like Sunita Narain and Malala are proof that we need more female leaders. Their approach is unique and inclusive of all, something which is rarely seen in male majority initiatives.
Policies and decisions led by women have time and time again proven to be centered around protecting the well-being of people coming from marginalised groups, who are often overlooked in government policy making. These women at the forefront provide an intersectional feminist approach to the issue of climate crisis yet have been long campaigning without recognition. This approach is particularly important because it allows for all types of women to enter conversations so that every group can be acknowledged and represented. It is important to remember that not all women are equally disadvantaged so having as much female representation as possible is imperative.
In amplifying the voices of women like Narain and Malala, we can give more passage for further women to enter a conversation that has been kept away from us for too long! When electing local officials we can read upon what their plans are in terms of the climate crisis and how they will best represent their communities and the voices of marginalised people.
We can push our schools to diversify their curriculums so that children are able to learn from more people like Malala and be inspired by her actions. Remember that there is always a place for you at the table regardless of your gender and background, everyone’s opinion and voice deserves to be heard so do not be afraid to use yours!
Aman Kalkat is a British Punjabi living in Valencia studying Spanish and a former Content Creator for Pardesi. An aspiring journalist, she loves writing and using her words to uplift communities in all different capacities. Kalkat is especially excited to support and encourage South Asian women across the world through this platform, believing that they have so much to offer the world with their personal stories. In addition to Pardesi and studying Spanish, she enjoys sunbathing, cooking, blogging, and traveling. You can find her work and follow her professional journey on her Instagram.