Saturday, March 17, 2012

Girls' Life in the Changing Climate: Stories From the North of Pakistan

As the world celebrated International Women's Day, my thinking goes back to the time of my childhood I spent in my remote village -- a beautiful green and mountainous land in the north of Pakistan.

I remember women and little children getting up before sunrise and help their families in fields during the sowing and harvesting seasons. Taking care of livestock was in addition to what women and younger girls do in looking after little kids at home. After sending children (usually boys) to schools, women and young girls used to go out and fetch water in the hilly areas with water pans on their heads. Those who had well or hand pump at home were although free from this hard work, but often give company to other women in their way for daily chitchat and asking about each other.

Women living in the uphill areas and belonging to much poorer communities had even harder life by collecting fuel wood in nearby forest for cooking purpose and burning woods to keep houses warm during winter. Time continued to move on, muddy roads turned to paved, new schools started, but life of girls and women remained same, even harder today in the changing climate.
The day our government announced new water supply schemes for our villages gave some relaxation to women that they won't fetch water in hilly areas anymore. At least they would have some time to relax in their day long work at homes and in fields. For years, the nearby spring water supplied water to the households through water pipes. Those families without a water connection still had the chance to go neighboring houses and fill their water pans from the taps installed outside homes. We had enough water for everyone.

Many years water remained sufficient. However, in recent years difficulties surrounded our villages again. Whenever I go back to my village now, I saw women and little children again traveling in hilly areas in search of water. Someone would see it quite strange that a woman having water pan on her head is walking on a track where water pipeline also passes through. However this is because of drying up water sources and leaving pipelines without any water to come through.

As a temporary solution, government fixed a time to supply water -- two hours per day, so the spring water could store in uphill water tank and become enough to flow downward. As the water continued to dry up, households now wait two to three days for water to come for two hours only. The result is obvious -- again the same difficulty for girls and women -- take water pan on head and go out to fetch water in hills. Water pipes have started rusting or broken and often people don't ask government to repair them because they know there is no water to come in.

Asking a woman why they have such difficulties in life or would they ever get rid of such hardships in life will only give a common response -- "this is our fate." People know rain patterns have changed and summers have become hotter than what they had in the past. But, they don't know why this is happening. And this is not only a water to fetch. In many uphill areas, where women also collect fuel wood from nearby forest, now travel more and far due to declining forests. Life, in 20-30 years, has simply become harder for many girls and women living in such uphill areas.

It is also a fact that women and girls of many rural areas spend their whole life within a house, get married at earlier age and continue same life in a new home. It would be hard to imagine for many those who live in developed part of the world that girls of this part of the developing world still fetch water instead of going to schools. In fact they don't know what climate change is. They don't know it's a new phenomenon in their lives which has rooted in many other socio-economic hurdles, enough to make their lives less empowered. It is not only the food they get, it is their choice how they want to live.

The international community, as it celebrated International Women's Day this March, still needs to understand this new phenomena of gender mainstreaming with the changing climate. They should know how such stories of girls and women continue to emerge from hills and remain unheard.

This blog was originally published in the Huffington post.

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