ISLAMABAD: Women from the rural areas are the backbone of the agricultural sector and their livelihood is the most negatively affected by climate change, therefore, the government must invest in gender responsive policies to mitigate climate change.

These views were expressed by speakers who participated in the inaugural session of a three-day conference titled ‘The Game Changers: Rural Women Rising for Equity, Ecology, Democracy and Economic Development Leadership in Pakistan’ organised by PODA-Pakistan in Lok Virsa.

Since 2008, PODA-Pakistan has been organising the annual conference in Islamabad and bringing rural women to the forefront. It provides an opportunity to all stakeholders to interact directly with rural women, to learn about their challenges and how they were coping with them.

International Rural Women Day will also be celebrated at the conference on Oct 15. Women from more than 100 districts will be present in the conference.

Women from over 100 districts to attend three-day conference in Lok Virsa

Sameena Nazir, president and founder of PODA-Pakistan, said challenges faced by rural women, particularly during the pandemic, would be shared with policymakers, parliamentarians, senior government officials, educationists and activists so they could devise a roadmap to achieve social justice, gender equality and food security.

Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) representative Florence Rolle said: “This year on International Day of Rural Women, we are focusing on rural women leadership and the vital role that they play in climate action and building resilience. As the world faces an increasingly critical need to address climate change, the important impact that rural women and girls have on building resilience is undeniable.”

Ms Rolle said patriarchal tendencies limit women’s rights to inheritance, assets, services and job markets. “Illiteracy is high among women and girls. In rural areas, only 22 per cent of girls above 10 years of age have completed primary schooling compared to 47 per cent of boys. Yet, women have an important role in the household economy and caring for their families,” she said, adding that their burden of labour increased significantly when poor agricultural productivity forced men to migrate to find work in cities and neighbouring industrial areas.

“In disaster-prone areas, communities often have extremely limited information and understanding of the hazards that surround them. Access to information is more limited for women and children,” she added.

Ambassador of the European Union Delegation to Pakistan Androulla Kaminara said in a message that the EU believed this conference paved the way to enhanced participation of rural women in decision-making processes.

While there had been some significant but uneven progress achieved in advancing women’s and girls’ rights, no country in the world was on track to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls by 2030, she said.

“In Pakistan, women represent almost 49pc of the country’s population but they currently form only a small part of the workforce and their inclusion in decision-making processes is limited,” Ambassador Kaminara added.

Participants learned that the Global Gender Gap Report 2021, published by the World Economic Forum, ranked Pakistan 153rd out of 156 countries, based on four key dimensions. They included economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival and political empowerment. To address these issues globally, the EU has come up with the Action Plan on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment in External Action 2021-2025 (GAP III).

“To leave no one behind, the action plan seeks to tackle all intersecting dimensions of discrimination, paying specific attention to women with disabilities, migrant women, and discrimination based on age or sexual orientation,” the EU ambassador stated.

Different organisations set up their stalls at the conference venue including the Papier Mache artisan centre, Sui Dhaga Centre. Other organisations that set up stalls were Iyzil (Smart Female Security App in Pakistan), Blue Moon (Beauty Saloon), Aadil Memorial Vocational Centre Swat, KP, Hilal-i-Ahmer and University of Veterinary and Animal Science (UVAS) Lahore.

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) set up a mock polling station to explain the complete polling process to women present at the conference.

Published in Dawn, October 14th, 2021

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