In the summer of 2022, unusually intense monsoon rains – exacerbated by climate change - caused a super flood that submerged one-third of Pakistan, affecting some 33 million people. While all four provinces were impacted to varying degrees, seven months following the catastrophe many villages across Sindh and Balochistan provinces remain remote islands, surrounded by stagnant, brackish water that stretches to the horizon.
The floods in Pakistan are the deadliest in a series of recent extreme weather events that have wreaked havoc across South Asia. There, more than half of all South Asians, or 750 million people, have been affected by one or more climate-related disasters in the past two decades. Those facing the most severe impacts are women and girls.
With less access to education, employment, financial services, and land resources, and with highly constrained roles in decision-making at all levels, women across South Asia bear the brunt of the climate crisis. In Sindh province in Pakistan, most women work in agriculture with little to no control over income or assets. In fact, almost half of women in the province lack titles to land and housing, severely undermining their economic security.
While women’s opportunities for participation in formal climate planning and leadership in South Asia need to be strengthened, changes around women’s participation in the public sphere are taking root. South Asia is pioneering a range of climate-smart solutions built upon women’s climate leadership in coastal resilience and disaster risk reduction, skilling for the transition to renewable energy, and institutional reforms for sustainable forest management that place indigenous women at the heart of place-based solutions.
Already, gender-transformative climate initiatives across South Asia are helping drive innovative approaches to climate resilience, leading to better outcomes for all. SAR Region’s new Regional Gender Action Plan (FY23-28) also places inclusive climate responses squarely at the center of its strategic efforts to improve outcomes for women in terms of skills, jobs, freedom from violence, and related focus areas.
In recent decades, Bangladesh has become a leader in climate adaptation and disaster management. This has been achieved, in part, by amplifying women’s formal role in community-based disaster preparedness planning and implementation. The country’s Cyclone Preparedness Program (CPP) has handpicked and trained nearly 40,000 women in disaster management. The CPP has also invested in coastal embankments, early warning systems, and newly planted forest resources. Through these innovations, the CPP has reduced cyclone-related fatalities 100-fold and lowered the ratio of female to male deaths by almost two thirds. And in Pakistan, the Sindh Resilience Project has carved out a new non-traditional role for emergency response and rescue for women.
In Nepal – and across South Asia – many women depend on forests for their livelihoods and survival while also lacking secure resource rights. Their indigenous knowledge of forest resources is crucial to protect against climate shocks such as drought, food shortage, and landslides. In Nepal, the World Bank has supported the Dedicated Grant Mechanism that empowers Indigenous and Local Community Nepali women to be agents of change in sustainable forest management and community-led forest initiatives. This process, as part of the larger Forest Landscape Program for Nepal, also helps demonstrate the potential for women’s climate leadership under the federalism structure and entry points around devolved climate planning and budgeting.
Energy security and sustainable routes to decarbonization are top priorities for countries around the globe. In South Asia, however, the number of women working in the energy sector is dismally low. The transition to low-carbon energy across South Asia presents an opportunity for women to deepen their sectoral skills and receive STEM education outreach and mentoring needed to access high-quality energy sector jobs. The World Bank’s Energy Global Practice, together with the Social Sustainability and Inclusion (SSI) Global Practice, under the WePOWER Network has supported 68,000 women and girls to date gain a toehold in this sector. They also help key sector employers to adopt systemic measures and good practices that will help recruit, retain, and promote women as energy sector professionals.
The program is paying dividends and changing norms around the suitability of the energy sector as an employment destination for women. Since its start in 2019, 560 women have been employed in technical positions by the partner utility companies of WePOWER. In Bangladesh, where a baseline study showed only six percent of women working in technical jobs in the energy sector, a unique ‘Power Women’ program has helped young female energy professionals gain technical and leadership skills.
In Sindh province in Pakistan, as families wait for flood waters to recede fully, diverse design elements have been included in the Flood Emergency Housing Reconstruction project to ensure that response efforts benefit women directly. For women, who generally lack land and housing title, the project is helping provide access to proper registration, land adjudication and verification processes. Community contributions to aid home reconstruction is available for labor-constrained women. Women will also be encouraged to diversify their skills through training in building household solar solutions and water harvesting.
Green, resilient and inclusive growth in the face of climate change requires placing gender at the center. As the new ‘climate normal’ takes hold across South Asia, women must be guaranteed a seat at the decision-making table, whether in terms of national policy, sub-national allocations, or local efforts. Narrowing the gender gap and empowering women and girls through gender-responsive climate policies will help build a sustainable future. The more women and girls are engaged in climate action across South Asia, the more resilient -- and equitable -- the region, and its climate transition, will be.