Show Notes

Dr Amiera Sawas – Dr Amiera Sawas was a Researcher in the Climate Change and Risk Programme. She has been conducting research in the private, non-governmental and academic sectors over the past 10 years. 

Women by Women – Women by Women is a unique photographic campaign that champions the inspirational stories of women and girls, and the incredible talent of women photographers. 



Amiera Sawas  0:09  

About 14% of the world’s ministers on climate are women only. And that has improved like 2% in the last five years, despite there being this big global action plan to deal with that.

Ben Hurst  0:22  

This is climate curious, the podcast for people who are bored, scared or confused by climate change.

Maryam Pasha  0:29  

I’m Maryam Pasha, the director and curator at TEDx London and the co host of this podcast, alongside the amazing Ben.

Ben Hurst  0:35  

Hi, I’m Ben Hurst, activist and advocate exploring what positive masculinities can look like, and self confessed climate Normie.

Welcome to climate curious live, okay, I’ve got good news and bad news. Which news do you want first?

Daze Aghaji  1:02  

I like the agreement.

Amiera Sawas intro

Ben Hurst  1:04  

Bad news is my wonderful co host. Maryam Pasha is not here. I know she’s abandoned No, sorry, I shouldn’t say that. She hasn’t, just has commitments that she has to honour. But the good news is that I have a new, wonderful co hosts Daze Aghaji is a London based youth climate justice activist who centres on regenerative cultures intersectionality, radical social justice and youth political engagement in her work in 2019, she became the youngest candidate to stand in a European parliamentary election. And I mean, please take yourself seriously. And ran under the banner of a climate and ecological emergency independent, to bring awareness to the needs for political will, in addressing the climate crisis, round of applause for yourself.

Daze Aghaji  2:09  

Yeah, it’s like a whole act of like self care, like self love to be like, Yeah, I deserve to be here as well.

Ben Hurst  2:22  

Actually, that brings me to an important point. I’m really excited about this episode today. Because I feel like this is maybe the first time that I actually have like an inclination that I have a bit of knowledge about what we’re talking about. But today, this topic is important because we’re talking about gender equality. In my day job, I work in a gender equality organisation, engaging men and boys in the conversation around masculinity is why I got stuck there engaging men and boys in the gender equality conversation through the lens of masculine ease. So I’m really excited to be having the guests that we’ve got on today. How do you How does this conversation sit with you? Does it? Are you feeling good? Are you feeling nervous? Are you feeling anxious? I’m super, I’m always in the seat of like,

Daze Aghaji  3:10  

how you feeling? Oh, yeah, like, to be honest, a lot of my work doesn’t focus on gender, which is kind of makes me like, really happy to be having this conversation. Because it’s like, a moment to upskill it’s a moment to learn something new. But then also, it still kind of plays into like, a lot of the work that I do around intersectionality. Because it’s like, you know, with, you know, like gender being such a large part of the way that we self described as humans. You know, it’s kind of like, it’s quite nice to have this moment of basically going, Okay, now I’m going to be like the person who doesn’t know anything. He’s going to be learning a lot about how gender intersects with the climate crisis.

Climate and the patriarchy

Ben Hurst  3:45  

It’s a nice vibe. Just go with it, just go with it. Okay, so I’d like you to join me in welcoming our first guest to the stage. Our first guest tonight is Dr. Amira Salas. She’s the director of programmes and research at climate outreach, and Amira has a diverse experience in climate, environmental and development, research and programming work across the private non governmental and academic sectors. This has taken her to various classes smiling. has taken her to various countries, including Sweden, Pakistan, Jordan, and Kenya. And as a result, she’s really passionate about the potential of bringing diverse stakeholders together to combat climate change, and set an inclusive vision for our collective future. Sounds good? Right. Okay, we’re gonna start off with a little bit of a of a broad question, because I think this is an important place for us to start now in in my work I’ve been working in in gender equality for almost a decade now. And I don’t think until I started doing this podcast, I made any link at all between gender equality and the climate crisis. I feel like those are almost like opposite ends of the spectrum. But what I’d like to know is for you and in your work, what is the link between climate and the patriarchy, the big P word? What is the link between climate crisis and patriarchy?

Amiera Sawas  5:16  

Okay? So if we think about when the climate crisis really accelerated, when our emissions pathway accelerated, this was a time, particularly during the time of colonial extraction across the world, that men were in control of a lot of the decisions, and they still are in a lot, you know, in control of the lot of the decisions, about 14% of the world’s ministers on climate are women only. And that has improved like 2% in the last five years, despite there being this big global action plan to deal with that. So it’s quite pervasive, who is making the decisions not just at a global political level, but also if you think about the kind of areas of life where climate change kind of cuts across so things around land things around water, sort of day to day decision making related to our environment, across the world, it’s mostly men who are in control. So men have really driven the business model, which has got us to the place that we’re in now.

Daze Aghaji  6:19  

Yeah, and I think there’s something about especially I’ve read about how women are mostly impacted by climate crisis as well. Do you think that there is this kind of in even in that kind of its own, you know, like dynamic with women being the people who are all ultimately like, kind of like the victim of a lot of climate crisis, but then men being like, the perpetrator? How do you think that that dynamic plays out in the political scape?

Amiera Sawas  6:46  

So about, if we look at it from this perspective, okay, the people who are most affected by climate are people who have livelihoods which are tied to environment, who are facing inequality and marginalisation and if we look at that about 70% of the world’s poorest are actually women and girls. And about 40% of the world’s most poor households are led by women. So there’s the fact that a lot of the sort of small farmers for small land owners sort of farmers are women as well. Women are really involved in food production, but they don’t own the land. So I think women are involved about 50 to 80% of global food production, but only own about 10% of the land, so they don’t have control over the decisions related to the land. So when there are like shocks and stresses related to climate, it’s men who make the decisions. And often men make decisions which are in the interest of men. Whereas research has actually shown when comparing when women and men make decisions related to environment and climate that often women will make decisions in the interests of the whole house. Whereas men will often make decisions related to their public role in life that ties into the issue of masculinity.

Ben Hurst  7:58  

Yeah, once again, trash. So I’m interested in this sorry, I kicked him in the trash, I shouldn’t say. What I want to know is I feel like you’ve given a couple of statistics and statistics for me, or things that just fly over my head, like I hear the numbers and my brains trying to catch up. But by the time it catches up, someone’s like seven words into the sentence, and I’ve missed it completely.

Amiera Sawas  8:20  

40% of the world’s poorest households are headed by women, right? Okay, so fundamentally, the people who are facing the most marginalisation, the most inequality on the whole are women. And that’s because also if you look within societal structures, so look at the poorest and most marginalised communities across the world, there’s a patriarchal kind of power dynamic that’s at play, where a lot of the men have decision making power, have access to resources and money, have social networks can get around. So there’s a really good example of this actually, if we look at climate related disasters, so there’s a statistic that gets used a lot that women and girls are 14 times more likely to die in a climate related disasters. Hurricane Katrina is a really good example of this. Okay, Hurricane Katrina, happened in a city where there had been historical race, racial segregation and racism, and also a lot of poverty and inequality intersecting with that. So when the hurricane hit, it was mainly single mums, black single mums, who were living in social housing in the centre of the city, who were waiting for their sort of social welfare check to come for them to actually leave. Whereas the kind of rich people as the white communities who had more money who lived in the suburbs had access to cash and cars and left really quickly, those women stayed because they were waiting for their welfare check, but then it got too late and then they were severely affected by it. So there are sort of these intersecting dynamics between gender, race and class which make women basically more vulnerable overall.

Climate, women and security

Ben Hurst  9:58  

Right, which is interesting. that because we always have these conversations about how marginalised groups of people are disproportionately affected by the climate. But I feel like that’s a really solid example of the ways that it works, right in terms of who has access to movement, who can get away who can run, who’s got the liquid cash to buy the things that they need, and make tracks like make moves, which is wild. So is there is there a link then between climate and security is that is that the link like climate and gender and security,

Amiera Sawas  10:32  

there’s quite a few different links between climate change and security. So security is a really broad term, it depends who’s defining it. So if you’re talking to a think tank in Washington, DC, you’ll get a very military, you know, term around, I wouldn’t. Unfortunately, I had a lot of experience. They do talk about a lot, and you’ll get a very militarised kind of masculine idea of security, war, war games, all this stuff. But then there’s this notion of human security, which is about being free from fear and free from one. So being well fed having access to your basic rights not being afraid, you know, that things negative things are gonna happen to you not experiencing structural violence, all of these things. So the spectrum of security is very, very broad. But you can see that climate change exacerbates security issues across the piece. So it could be for example, you know, some of the research that I’ve been involved in, we’ve found that during times of drought and floods, gender based violence has increased. So women’s security, and the perpetrators are not always just men. Sometimes the perpetrators are the women in the family, during times of insecurity, generally, for everybody, people are trying to cope. And sometimes there are negative coping mechanisms which involve people lashing out being frustrated, you might end up in a situation where communities are struggling for water, for example, during a drought. So sometimes this creates a vacuum that political actors can kind of get involved start controlling the water supply, and then it can become violent over time, you get these kind of, I don’t really like the term, but the easiest way to describe it as water mafia phenomenon. When you have a gap. There’s a lot of studies looking at some of the bigger conflicts that have emerged in areas really affected by climate change. So one of them is the Lake Chad Basin crisis, where you have this kind of intersection of the in Nigeria, that kind of Boko Haram, government conflict. And there’s also this kind of lake there that a lot of people rely on for their livelihoods. And so it’s got quite confusing for a lot of people like what is the conflict about and many people say that it’s actually to do with local livelihoods being affected, particularly young men’s from a community that’s really marginalised by the state, because it’s associated with seem to be associated with a Boko Haram, who have been having a conflict with the government. So one of the ways according to researchers that this has played out is that Boko Haram have offered interest free loans to young men who aren’t able to live up to the ideals of masculinity by, you know, owning property, and livestock, which they need in order to be seen as eligible for marriage. And so they if they can’t fulfil those things, because of the life livelihood crisis that they’re facing, they then you know, get these opportunities. And as a result of that, it may be that sometimes they then get an affiliation with this group, or they’re expected to do something in return. And then they’re sort of this all gets interconnected with each other. But again, it depends, you know, I try to just rely on kind of embedded research from local people. Sometimes these kind of narratives about climate security become very problematic and top down and colonial and very much that kind of idea of these backwoods people fighting over this kind of thing, right?

Ben Hurst  14:05  

Because I don’t know, I was when he was talking about those loans. I was like, I might need to double in. Specifically, but I do. And it’s interesting, right? Because this is where I think the link is right in terms of one way of dealing with this is to allow people to have a different way to live up to those ideals. The other way of dealing with it is changing the either set of ideals so that people don’t feel they have to live up to that thing, and coming up with other solutions to the problem. I’m really interested, you’ve given us like a couple of examples where I think it’s important that we ground these conversations in like tangible examples of like what is happening in real time. I’m wondering if you have any other examples of like, where you see these actors at play, like where you see these things? How you see them Mapping out.

Amiera Sawas  15:00  

Okay, so I worked for about 10 years in Pakistan, and I still work there, I was there earlier this year. And in parts of Pakistan, there are very high ideals, you know, gendered norms, basically expectations on women and men, how they should behave, what they, how they should move, how they should speak. And one of the communities we worked with over about three years, they had very conservative norms, social norms. And, you know, they were struggling, they were really struggling because there was a combination of a drought, which was affecting their livelihoods. They were coastal fishermen. And so we would ask them, you know, like, in this economy, would it be okay for the girls in your family to work, because, you know, socially, it wasn’t acceptable. And there was a man who said to one of the research team that I was working with, you know, I’d rather I’d rather die, women for their home or the grave. Now, like, that person isn’t a bad person, but they have high expectations on them, to for the women in their family to behave in a way which is seen as kind of in line with the social norms of their community. I worry about giving these examples. We were talking about this earlier, because we don’t want anyone to be stereotyped. But ultimately, we all face these norms I grew up with, like, people in my family telling me like women shouldn’t swear. Yeah, you know, I had have had a really interesting evolution of the relationship with my dad, who he was very strict on me growing up and kind of, I’ve always wanted to prove that I was worth it. I was wanting to prove that like I was as good as the boys and I should be heard. And it was only like, for him it was his family being so affected by the conflict in Syria, which some say has to do with a drought. But I don’t believe that, to be honest. And him watching how women and men behaved in that conflict, and then seeing things and one day he came to me and he said, the women are the strongest, the women are the strongest. I can’t believe I’ve been like this, you know. So I just think everybody, most people have very good intentions, but we’re socially conditioned in all of our environments, regardless of where we are in the world, by gender norms are slightly different in each country, but we’re socially conditioned on way. Every

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Ben Hurst  17:15  

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Maryam Pasha  17:22  

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Ben Hurst  17:33  

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Maryam Pasha  17:41  

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Ben Hurst  17:49  

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Maryam Pasha  17:59  

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Ben Hurst  18:08  

Nice one, Citi,

Maryam Pasha  18:10  

thank you for making this podcast possible.

Ben Hurst  18:12  

Now, back to the show.

Amplifying the voice of women in the climate space

Daze Aghaji  18:16  

So how do you manage to kind of have the conversation, but then also make sure it doesn’t lead to a place of like prejudicing, like the communities that you’re working with as well.

Amiera Sawas  18:28  

I think, you know, you have to be really careful. And I, I’m always really careful of my positionality. Because I’m not Pakistani, for example, even though I worked there for a very long time. So I often talk about how problematic it was that I ended up working there in the first place. But at the time, I was supposed to be working in Syria, and the war broke out and you know, for various reasons ended up in Pakistan. So I’ll often talk about that. And that sets the tone, I think, for a conversation about inside or outside of dynamics and judgement. But I also, you know, talk about other things, because people will often Oh, Pakistan, tell it, you know, what was that? What was that like, as a woman, and then I’ll make sure to talk about all the fantastic things, the fantastic experiences that I have, and have had there, which are also related to gender, and the sort of hospitality of the community. So I think you have to build that full picture for people because we have to understand that those stereotypes are just so deeply embedded

Ben Hurst  19:25  

right? And speak into this idea of like the full picture, right? This is a conversation that I actually think is super interesting. Because on the one hand, we’ve got a climate crisis, which is causing and in lots of cases exacerbating gender inequality across the world. Like Wherever you look, things are getting a little bit more drastic, mainly because there are natural disasters taking place. They’re really stressful situations that people are under, but I’m really interested in what it’s like for you being on the on the inside of the movement because I I feel like we’ve been doing this work for a while now having these conversations with loads of people. And I feel like there’s a recurring theme, which is about the gender inequality in the climate movement. And so like, on the opposite side of like, not not what the planet is doing to people, but even the people who are trying to work on you are still experiencing that. And I’m wondering, like, what your experience of that has been?

Amiera Sawas  20:22  

Yeah, well, I probably should have said earlier, there’s a bit of a vicious circle when it comes to climate and gender, right, because men make the decisions. And those decisions don’t necessarily, they’re quite patriarchal, and then women get more impacted. Because, you know, no one’s thinking about our needs specifically. And then we’re not included in the development of solutions. So our resilience is affected by the climate crisis, our resilience is made worse, we’re not included in the solutions in the climate crisis, we excluded, and then the solutions are not gender responsive, so then they start impacting us further, and it becomes this vicious circle. For me, I’ve just, you know, not probably not a week goes by or every couple of weeks that I don’t get completely undermined. You know, obviously, I’ve done a PhD in it. And I’ve written in this kind of, there’s this governmental group, where you, like, collate all the evidence on climate, put it together, called the IPCC, and I’ve written in that, but I constantly get undermined and questioned, and it’s quite this space is quite, you know, there’s intersectional power that really plays out in the climate spaces. I think there were historically I mean, there’s actually studies on this, that they were historically very white, middle class and male. And that might be because the kind of academic background of the work was, was an area that more men were a part of, so sort of, you know, environmental economics, engineering, these sorts of things. And so yeah, for me, someone like me, who’s, you know, comes from a family who are, you know, immigrants of working class background? I just don’t really fear a lot of the time. I don’t I obviously have a lot of privilege now. And I talk about it a lot. But there’s just so many times I get undermined that people will say, you know, treat me like, I’m the assistant, for example, or, you know, we saw it on Twitter last week, somebody saying, oh, you should speak to some academics about gender and climate. And I’m like, Yeah, I’ve done it for the last 15 years. I’ve got a PhD on it. Yeah, so I’ve had people that I managed, saying, Oh, you’re not a climate expert, things like that. And I said, Well, what makes you think that and they just never looked at my biography, even though I’ve been managing them for over a year. So yeah, it’s quite, it’s quite tricky.

Ben Hurst  22:39  

I’m super interested in what solutions are coming particularly from like women and girls. Are we seeing loads of that work being done? Are there solutions that are being made by women and girls? Or is it just you?

Amiera Sawas  22:54  

Definitely, not just me, I don’t even know if I’m coming with solutions. So historically, women and girls have been, you know, as men and boys have been critical to solutions. So if you look at the history of like, the most critical carbon sinks that we have in the world, they were managed and continue to be managed by indigenous communities, despite them being under massive threat. So those solutions already exist, I can give an example. So now it’s become trendy to talk about agro ecology and regenerative agriculture. That’s a historical practice that people have been doing for generations, but suddenly, it’s become trendy. There’s a woman that 

Ben Hurst  23:29  

I feel like I should know what that I’m I’m on trend. I want to be part of it

How can we create change on an individual level?

Amiera Sawas  23:36  

is actually really important. So there’s, you know, it’s a form of farming, which is organic, doesn’t use any chemical pesticides. And you know, like, there are studies that find that it, it increases biodiversity, it increases food security. And as a result, there’s a knock on impact on gender equality, because girls are often the first to be pulled out of school in a family when there’s a drought and a food security issue. So that that means that those girls don’t get pulled out of school, and they get to continue their education. And there’s also an impact on violence against women and girls, because the food security in the house is not under threat, those kinds of toxic masculinity impacts on happening. So there are many solutions out there. But I think one that I would say and I have my colleagues here from ActionAid, who’ve done some really good work on this is putting women from the countries that are on the frontlines of the climate crisis in control. So my colleagues here had a project which is just about representation called women by women where they had women photographers, from the countries on the frontlines taking pictures of women’s experiences. And what you see and you learn about in terms of solutions, in terms of women’s leadership is so different, that if you have a kind of foreign white person or man taking pictures, so putting women in control is one. There’s also a lot of evidence that If you have more women’s representation on things like water management committees, forestry committees, there was a study that found that when you had women and men equally on forestry committees in India and Nepal that the forest cover improved by 12%. If you look at governments in the world, there was a study, I think of 91 countries where there was a higher proportion of women in parliament, there were better climate policies. There were better, more sustainable climate outcomes. It was more ambitious. So I think what we, you know, if you have multiple lenses and perspectives, and also because because we’re aware of our own exclusions, we can be a bit more focused on inclusion, you know, so I think just putting women in control is probably the way to do things. To be honest. Yeah, at least. 

Ben Hurst  25:49  

That’s the end of today’s episode. No. I do think that that is a an important solution. Right. And I think that there’s loads and loads of research, I think the last McKinsey Report listed all of the different ways that like any organisation, any institution improves, by having more women in leadership in those organisations, I think you get more diverse perspectives, better decision making, people are considering things that they’ve not considered before because their experience or the experiences that were not represented are there in the room. So I think that that’s really, really important. And last question I want to ask is, for average, everyday listener, somebody who’s like tuning in? What would you recommend that person do if they had to take one action? What action would you recommend?

Amiera Sawas  26:37  

Well, we do research with the public actually on, you know, how they feel about climate and climate action, about 83% of the British public really care about climate, but only 10% know what to do. But everybody has to figure out what it means for them in their own life, there’s such a spectrum of action from voting for different candidates from just reducing the amount of meat you eat, for example, can have actually quite a knock on impact. retrofitting your house, if you can afford to do that. I think it really depends on your personal circumstances as well. I’m not here to tell anyone who, you know, has a tiny carbon footprint that they should change their life. But if you fly on private jets, and you know, like, you go take multiple holidays a year and, you know, eat red meat five times a week, you know, wouldn’t hurt, it would actually make? 

Ben Hurst  27:30  


Amiera Sawas  27:34  

But also, actually, the biggest thing that you can do about climate is have conversations about it with people in your life, as a domino effect, when you have conversations with people in your life about climate change. And when you talk to them about whatever it is that you do, even if you feel it’s small, that can have a real impact. And so I think we just need to have these kind of normal, everyday conversations about the things that we’re doing. And we’ll start, you know, once you do one thing, you feel more confident you do the next one, and then your whole lifestyle, you could be actually reducing your emissions quite a lot. And that has quite a knock on effect. But definitely voting for people who.

Climate Confessions

Ben Hurst  28:15  

And now, it’s time for our climate confessions. Let’s fess up to the bad habits we just called kick. I think that there’s this idea. And there’s this perception that if you do if you work in this, if you’re working towards solutions, if you care, you have to be perfect. Or you should be doing nothing at all, it’s 100, or zero. And we all know, I know more than everybody else. But we all know that it’s impossible to be perfect. And that all of us are doing things maybe that we shouldn’t be doing or that we could avoid doing but we don’t. So we’re interested to know what your climate confession is for today.

Amiera Sawas  28:56  

Okay, this is really embarrassing. I do I do. I do still drive sometimes. I do.

Ben Hurst  29:05  

What kind of driving

Amiera Sawas  29:07  

a car I can’t afford it. But it’s a hybrid. It’s a hybrid. To be fair, and this this comes to the issue of gender and security that the only drive at night when I’m on my own. And it’s genuinely about that. Right? So be really honest, it’s about that. And so, you know, like it’d be great wouldn’t it if we as women, and some men could just get public transport at night without worrying about what’s gonna happen to us but that’s not a reality we live in gender security issues happen here just as much as they happen anywhere else. Right. So that’s, that’s the that’s the thing.


Ben Hurst  29:47  

I don’t know how you’ve given the confession and I feel bad at the end

I love that and thank you so much for joining us today. Thanks. Absolute pleasure. Thank you for joining us this week. We really hope you enjoyed this episode.

Maryam Pasha  30:11  

If you did, please hit the Follow button to make sure you get next week’s release.

Ben Hurst  30:16  

We are now officially crowdsourcing climate conditions. So please leave yours in the ratings in the review section. And we’ll shut off you next time.

Maryam Pasha  30:24  

A huge thank you to our headline partner Citi, who has supported us for the past six years to bring world changing ideas to the TEDx London stage, and the champion climate curious since day one,

Ben Hurst  30:36  

and shout out to our fabulous team behind the

Maryam Pasha  30:40  

pod. This episode was produced by Josie Coulter comms written by Tess Lowry. Oh work designed by Rebecca Ming is curation by Marian Pasha mixing engineers by Ben Beheshti. newzik also by Ben Beheshti presented by Ben Hurst and Marian Pasha.

Ben Hurst  30:57  

Remember, stay curious

Olivia Murray

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