Last year, National Geographic Explorer Amber Ajani set out with an all-female team to document climate change narratives of people in Pakistan, which Germanwatch predicts will be one of the countries hardest hit by climate change in the coming years. This project changed focus when the team had an encounter with a woman in the town of Chitral and heard her personal narrative. In honor of Women’s History Month, we talked to Amber about her work, her experience as a woman in the field, and who inspires her this Women’s History Month.
Tell us about your work amplifying stories of women from around the country.
We had set out to document the climate change narratives of people in Pakistan. However, we soon realized that all our local contacts were men, and they were only connecting us to other men in their communities. After a chance encounter with Sonia Kanwal in Chitral and hearing her personal narrative around post-disaster trauma, we made sure that we specifically asked to speak with women wherever we went. Due to cultural limitations it wasn’t always easy, but we tried to include more women narratives to provide a holistic picture. We met with some incredible women from around the country who shared with us their struggles and hopes in times of a changing climate. These women also had more knowledge of local traditions and folk songs related to climate and the environment, and they were more willing to share their observations of the social and personal impacts of climate change.
How is being a woman an advantage in your field?
Being a woman in my field is not much of an advantage, sadly. STEM fields in most countries are male-dominated, and my field of Environmental Science is no different. In fact, it is a low-priority field in my country where interest from students is low and availability of sustainability-focused courses and degrees is a challenge. As a woman working in a minority field, one has to work harder to be taken seriously.
What’s it like to lead an all-female team? Has it been a different experience than with other teams you’ve led?
Leading an all-female team was an amazing experience for me! I had the good fortune of working with a team of extremely accomplished, dedicated, and passionate women. We were a constant source of support, learning, and growth for each other. It was a different experience in comparison to other teams I’ve led in the past because this time I was working with friends, and effective communication and a sense of sisterhood made all the difference.
Is there a piece of women’s history that inspires you, or a figure in women’s history that you look up to?
I really admire Rachel Carson, whose book “The Silent Spring” helped launch the modern environmental movement. Her work and determination is a source of inspiration for me and shows that not all activism has to be loud and aggressive. Sometimes, a quiet yet consistent and dedicated effort is enough to change the system.
Learn more about Amber Ajani and her work researching and documenting climate change in her home country of Pakistan.