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Pakistan: Signatures Success! Ministry for Climate Change Restored After National Campaign

Published Date: 
Tuesday, April 7, 2015
Shirkat Gah

After mobilising the signatures of women across rural regions of Pakistan, the Purple Women Movement have seen their demand fulfilled: the government has reinstated the country's climate change ministry.

Climate change, a social issue

In Pakistan, climate change manifests itself in changing monsoon patterns, melting glaciers, seasonal flooding, rising sea levels, and desertification.  This is having devastating effects not only on natural ecology but also on the socioeconomic setup of the country. Studies conducted by Shirkat Gah on climate change have shown that it is slowly damaging the livelihood, health and overall quality of life of all,  but having a particularly detrimental effect on women in certain ecological zones of Pakistan.

To address issues related to climate change, a ministry was formed but was later demoted to a mere division in 2013 as part of a governmental drive to reduce the size of the federal cabinet. This resulted in slashing of budget of the division to half that of the previous fiscal year (54 million PKR in 2013-2014 compared to Rs135 million PKR in 2012-13).

Unhappy with this relegation of climate change to the bottom of the national agenda, a national campaign was launched.  The “Restore Climate Change Ministry” campaign was led by Mr. Asif Iqbal a climate leader, and joined by many concerned citizens.

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The Purple Women add their voices

Shirkat Gah’s Purple Women’s movement teamed up with the campaign, determined to add their voices to the growing demand for the restoration of the ministry, and to highlight the specific issues faced by women as a result of climate change. 

The Purple Women’s movement is made up of women from areas hard hit by massive flooding, the same areas where Shirkat Gah established Women Friendly Spaces for women to participate in learning activities after the floods in 2010 (Muzaffargrah, Bhakkar, Jaffabarad, Shahdadkot and two in Swat). 

Coordinated by Sadia Irshad, Shirkat Gah’s Senior Programme Officer for Environment and Livelihood, the Purple Women led a drive for signatures for the campaign, garnering momentum in their community for the issue which has affected the local people so much. As seen in the photos below, as well as written signatures there were many thumbprints, as most taking part were illiterate women farmers.  The signatures were well received by the national campaign, and helped send a powerful message from village women to the government.  Mr. Iqbal said of the effort:

“I can't believe the way these powerful women and other male volunteers have raised their voices in such beautiful way to the Government and I am getting too much energy from the effort you all have put together in this campaign. In fact I won't find any suitable words which can say thanks to you [Sadia Irshad and Shirkat Gah] properly and all these women and volunteers who took part in this great work!”

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In January this year, it was announced that the Pakistani government was reinstating the Climate Change Ministry.  “We lose billions of rupees each year to floods and other calamities due to our negligence and bad governance," Mushahid Ullah Khan, the new federal minister for climate change told a local newspaper. "If the ministry improves its performance, we'll be able to get foreign climate financing easily for different sustainable projects."  Khan, now his party’s information secretary, said he would try to improve coordination among government departments to deal more effectively with climate change and extreme weather.

The turnaround can be attributed in part to the upcoming United Nations conference in Paris, where governments are expected to seal a new agreement to tackle climate change, as well as behind-the-scenes efforts from parliamentarians and by Qamar-uz-Zaman Chaudhry, advisor to the United Nations Development Programme in Pakistan and author of the country's climate change policy.

However, this success should also be heralded as testament to the power of ordinary Pakistani citizens, including the farm women who mobilised their communities and sent their message all the way up to the government.  In this instance, political pressure from above and below convened to achieve success.

The future trajectory of the newly reinstated ministry remains to be seen, including what Pakistan will include in the offer each country must put forward in advance in the Paris talks in December.  Nonetheless, this first important step should galvanise Pakistani citizens, and especially women, to realise the importance of their voices, to maintain their mobilisation, and to continue to push for a climate ministry and a government that reflects the needs of its people. 

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