Over the past few decades, flash floods, storm surges, cyclones, heat waves, and droughts have become a new normal for Bangladesh. The country has a nearly unparalleled vulnerability to climate crisis. It’s presently well-understood that climate crisis increases existing inequalities and disproportionately affects girls and women.
I believe women and girls can build the greater resilience and fix the future for people and planet. Our unheard voices, responsibilities, and knowledge on climate change, and the challenges we face need to be central to the opposition presented against climate threat through UN summits like COP27.
At 12 years old, my family and I were hit by Super Cyclone Sidar which affected more than 8 million people in the country. Consequently, my family was forced to move from our coastal village. Since then, I have been passionate about working in disaster risk management and tackling climate crisis. Running my fieldwork in the coastal belt, I realised how climate change is a hidden factor like lack of education, malnutrition, and soaring child marriage rates. However, ‘climate change’ is not a popular term that the general public is familiar with.
So, I formed a youth team and founded YouthNet for Climate Justice to raise mass awareness — a group that is the largest network for climate advocacy in Bangladesh right now. We are working in about 50 districts where our current priority is women empowerment.
YouthNet’s advocacy includes multiple avenues: Community outreach programmes, collaboration with local government and educational institutions, assembling numerous youth-led organizations for the common purpose of tackling climate crisis, developing a youth movement towards climate justice in Bangladesh, voicing support for a just transition to a climate-friendly society, co-creating solutions and occupying seats at the decision-making table at a policy-level, along with the facilitation of negotiating process.
As part of its advocacy strategies, YouthNet implements community outreach programmes to disseminate information on climate and disaster preparedness, safe water, and health sanitation. The yearly action plans of YouthNet have been set in motion that includes community mobilization, advocacy, and capacity-building, monitoring of disaster risk reduction, and climate change adaptation activities.
In 2019, YouthNet joined in the first global climate strike expressing solidarity with Greta Thunberg and the Fridays for Future movement to hold the global community accountable for the urgent climate action and support to the affected communities. Afterwards, we organized a model youth parliament session in Barishal that passed a bill on the climate emergency.
Following this, in November, Bangladesh’s National Parliament passed its first-ever Planetary Emergency Bill fulfilling demands of the young climate activists. Another major victory for climate action was YouthNet’s protest against the coal-powered plant in Matarbari being developed by the Bangladeshi authorities and Japanese investors. This environmentally destructive move drew heavy criticism and YouthNet held several strikes in innovative ways.
Eventually, Japan pulled out funding from a major coal power project, Matarbari 2 in Cox’s Bazar, and the government canceled 16 out of the 21 coal plant projects around the country. The country’s recent Mujib Climate Prosperity Plan aims to increase the resilience of coastal communities and harness the global imperative to address and adapt to climate change as a catalyst for increased economic prosperity.
Currently, YouthNet has built a partnership with Climate Parliament Bangladesh to enhance climate governance by engaging young people from local to national levels. YouthNet for Climate Justice has also established a Coastal Youth Action Hub where we provide knowledge-based training and mentoring support for the young people. This action hub promotes innovative solutions to adapt to climate change issues. Moreover, the youth are advocating for a pollution-free environment, use of green technology in the coastal areas for safe drinking water supply, strengthening of food and nutrition security, sustainable livelihoods, and construction of sustainable embankments.
During COVID-19 pandemic, we began making and distributing free face masks, hand sanitizers and hand soaps, as well as reaching economically disadvantaged people through community campaigns. We also successfully raised funds online to deliver 1,000 relief packages to the marginalized Manta fishing community and climate migrants in Barishal. Sexual and gender-based violence is a potential consequence of this pandemic. The economic strain on families due to the outbreak may put children, especially girls, at increased risk of exploitation, child marriage, and gender-based violence. This year Bangladesh faced one of the most devastating and record-breaking floods. YouthNet’s young volunteers are the ones working in the frontline to deal with the crises. They were in operation in remotest locations like Osmani Nagar, Bishwamvarpur, Tahirpur of Sylhet, and Sunamganj districts to support during the flooding.
They provided dry food, safe drinking water, and oral saline to the flood-affected communities. Nearly 500 sanitary napkins were distributed, as well. They also reached the isolated communities in Kurigram and Netrokona districts with safe shelter support. Currently, they’re imparting tin substances to construct new homes and toilets based on the urgency for rehabilitation. Nearly 150 volunteers have been involved in this flood response where women were in the lead and they have distributed relief items to over 5,000 families.
Climate crisis is not just an environmental, economic, or development problem; it’s a matter of human right, equality, and justice. Too often, when we think of climate destruction, we focus on the symptoms without paying attention to the root causes: Patriarchy and neoliberal capitalism based on patriarchal norms, colonialism, and racism. Climate change is not a normal process, but a symptom and a consequence of domination. This narrative must be dismantled, decolonized, and a more caring people created in its place. Thus, transformation means a radical change in the system. Patriarchal forms of masculinity play an important role in perpetuating social and environmental injustices.
A man-made climate crisis is killing Mother Earth and women. The possession of power over others, including other men, women, children, and nature, is part of the harmful expectations that shape masculinity. These norms must be exposed to the harm they cause. It must be challenged globally, in harmony with other efforts to transform the system, ensure human rights for all, and facilitate the green care economy.
Business and government leaders must be held accountable for harmful environmental policies and behaviors. Political complacency, procrastination, and excuses should be exposed for what they are. A mistake in leadership is a tragic defeat for both humanity and life on Earth. Their domination and procrastination result in death sentences for millions of women and girls. Addressing this crisis requires more female leaders on the negotiating table to save people and the planet, not pointless profit.