Forestería en las tierras secas

One woman’s quest to advocate for marginalised communities in the face of climate change


Ever since she was a child, Maha has fought for the rights of others. Her older sister Mai was born with a case of severe Cerebral Palsy, a group of neurological disorders that affect movement and muscle tone, and from a young age Maha cared for her like a second mother. Growing up in Egypt, where there are many societal, cultural, and structural barriers for disabled people and very limited access to services, life was far from easy for Maha and her family.  Despite Maha’s best efforts, Mai sadly passed away in November 2022.

This experience had a lasting effect on Maha, impacting her opinions, beliefs, decisions, and ultimately shaping her future. Her sister was unable to care for herself and Maha became aware of the cultural, social, and economic impact of disability, particularly on women. This pushed her to study to become a socio-economist, so she could use her knowledge to improve the rights of women and disabled groups. She now works a Senior Socio-economic Consultant at the Public Opinion Research Institute (BASEERA) and as a senior Economic and Technical Advisor to the Middle East and North Africa Health Policy Forum, conducting practical research used to advocate for policies that benefit women, people with disabilities and the environment. 

Climate change and vulnerable communities

Recently she has focused her research on the relationship between climate change, women and people with disabilities, with both groups being statistically more vulnerable to climate change effects. In partnership with BASEERA and the United Nations Development Program, Maha spoke with six focus groups from across Egypt (Cairo, Alexandria, Lower and Upper Egypt) including public school teachers, local farmers, disabled people, youth, people living in megacities and businesspeople from livestock, textile and agriculture industries, with equal numbers of women and men. The research gave an unprecedented insight into the impact of climate change, especially women.

The research, which was conducted in 2022, showed that women reported physical, financial, psychological, social, and mental exhaustion due to climate change. From the farmers’ focus group, all female farmers – both crop and livestock farmers - confirmed that climate change has had a negative effect on their food security and income. Many said they had found ways to adapt, including taking out loans, buying on credit, eating much less meat, working as labour for other landlords, and pulling their female children out of school to relieve financial burdens.

When conducting this research, Maha was struck particularly by the results from the focus group conducted with people with disabilities. All members of the focus group had heard about climate change except for the hearing disability group, which can be explained by the absence of sign language translation on the Egyptian TV. In Egypt, and many places across the world, the deaf community are under-represented in society due to the lack of sign language education and integration in schools and the workplace. Maha found that some of the people she communicated with for her research had never heard of climate change and, through her focus groups, she was able to conduct and obtain research findings to raise awareness. Since then, she has advocated for enhanced communication on this matter in ways that can adequately reach everyone, especially the deaf community.

Taking her research to the global stage

In 2022, Maha had the opportunity to take her findings to the global stage. She presented the research at a side event of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s 27th Conference of the Parties in Sharm El-Sheikh, where she advocated for strict law enforcement on all kinds of environmental violations, increasing awareness about climate change through all channels (especially through schooling, family roles, and media), and including climate responsive budgeting into all programs across Egypt especially gender and the disabled.

Through her research and networking, Maha has participated in decision-making and advocated for concrete policies to build a better future for women farmers, in particular disabled and other marginalized groups. In fact, Maha and the CEO of BASEERA Dr. Maged Othman have spoken with Egyptian government representatives, using their most recent findings to improve gender responsive budgeting and help finance the needs of the vulnerable and women farmers in to GRCF projects. Maha has also worked to expand her network and connect BASEERA with other Non-Governmental and Civil Society Organizations across North Africa, improving women’s social solidarity and raising awareness on environmental policies to adopt green, environment friendly technologies and renewable energies, accessible for everybody.

 “I wish to live and see the world a better and equitable place,” Maha says, “and I will keep working as much as I can to achieve that until the very end.”

Maha’s story demonstrates the importance of WeCaN’s capacity building and knowledge sharing efforts. Only by improving women’s access to policy making and decision-making processes, can we truly improve the lives of women and marginalized communities everywhere. Attending WeCaN’s first Global Gathering in May 2023, Maha strengthened her negotiation skills and spoke with other WeCaN members who are also conducting research on climate change, enhancing her network. She said: “It was inspiring to share this knowledge with other women in the WeCan community, and learn from their stories too.” 

The WeCaN community will continue to support her as she continues her research and advocacy work, ensuring that everyone, no matter their background or disability, can participate in climate change action and make their voice heard.