The climate crisis is real, and we are currently witnessing its serious impact on our daily lives. However, the interest in this topic is still scarce, especially for journalists who have a responsibility to raise readers’ awareness about the dangers of climate change and environmental crises. In addition, climate change affects women disproportionately, and yet, women are still marginalized in decision-making and policy-making positions. We spoke to Egyptian journalist Rahma Diaa, a freelance journalist from Egypt and founder of the Climate School initiative, whose journalistic work focuses on the different aspects of the climate crisis.
How long have you been covering climate change and how did you become interested in it?
I started working as a journalist in 2009 when I was still a student at the Faculty of Mass Communication at Cairo University. I’ve worked as a full-time journalist with many media organisations covering different topics such as investigations, politics and women. In 2017, I became a freelance journalist and began focusing more on qualitative work. My decision to become a freelance journalist was a challenge for me, but it motivated me to seek excellence, so I looked for a remarkable topic that could help me achieve this goal. I started producing investigative reports, and coincidentally, the first investigative piece I produced with the ARIJ network focused on the environment and the impact of climate change on health.
I always thought that this topic was too dry and scientific. However, after the first investigative story I published, my opinion changed and I discovered that it was an interesting topic that can be dealt with from many perspectives including social and economic. This is how I started to be interested in environmental issues, with a special focus on the human aspect of climate change and how it directly affect people’s lives. I started to deepen my knowledge in this topic through attending workshops and conferences. What further motivated me was the fact that climate change was not a popular topic in the region and there are few Arab journalists who cover it. So, I started highlighting the short-term emerging impact of climate change, which is now clearly and directly affecting people’s lives, and shifting my focus towards climate stories like water scarcity and the impact of global warming on crops and farmers.
I also attended many trainings and fellowships that focus on climate change on an international scale because I was interested to look at the crisis from a global perspective.
What are the main challenges that you face while covering climate change?
One of the main challenges that I face is the difficulty to find sources specialized in climate change. There is a lack of specialized resources in this field in the Arab region, and I always struggled to find sources who are aware of the latest climate change trends, for example, the link between gender and climate change, as there were no Arab or Egyptian experts I could interview on this. Another topic that I had difficulty finding sources for was the relationship between fast-changing fashion and climate change. However, now that more people are interested in this topic, especially with regard to sustainable fashion, we can find more experts who can be interviewed for these stories.
The second challenge I faced was the difficulty to find platforms that were ready to publish climate change stories; there was a lack of interest in this topic and the space for publication was limited in Egypt. At first, I was pitching my stories to a website specialized in scientific content, and then, I started to publish stories in English with interested websites out of Egypt. What complicated things was that I was a freelance journalist, and it was difficult to convince media organisations to publish stories they are not organically interested in.
Women are disproportionally affected by the climate crisis. Do you focus on women’s perspective when you cover climate change?
The first time I started addressing climate change from a gender perspective was after I attended an international conference on the climate crisis. It was the first time I was exposed to the idea of linking gender to the climate crisis, climate justice and how this affects women in particular. After this conference, I shifted my focus to further highlight this specific aspect of climate change and I published a story about the impact of water shortages on women in certain Egyptian villages, and how the greatest burden falls on women to provide water to their families by walking long distances and transporting water from the source to the house, while men consider that this job is for women only. I also recently worked on a video that highlights the disproportionate impact of climate change on women, whether in access to health care services or the struggle with water shortage and other challenges that women face during environmental crises. The video also presents different solutions and strategies that must be applied to achieve climate justice, most importantly the importance of including women in the decision-making process to better respond to their needs.
In your opinion, what is the role of women in finding sustainable solutions to the climate crisis?
Women are more aware of the climate crisis, especially that they are directly and disproportionally impacted by it. Therefore, they must have a voice in the policies that are being developed and the environmental agreements that are concluded at the local, regional and international levels. Women should be heard in issues that directly affect them, therefore, their opinions and experiences should be taken into account while addressing the climate crisis, either through awareness programs or training to alleviate the suffering of women during water scarcity or displacement due to weather change, for example.
In addition, women can play a major role in their various fields of specialization, and be aware of the importance of energy conservation, adopting alternative and environmentally friendly methods and reducing emissions. If we raise women’s awareness of climate change and ways to adapt to it, it can greatly affect women’s lifestyle.
How would you describe the readers’ response to the stories you publish? Do you think they are now more aware of the climate crisis?
I always try to highlight the extensive impact of climate change and how it touches people’s lives, so that readers can realize the direct impact of climate change on them on the short, medium and long term. This pushes them to be more aware of the current impact of this crisis on their lives and on their children’s health now and in the near future. Thus, they realize the magnitude of the risk, which gives them more incentive to change their daily habits. This leads to more interaction with readers.
During the last couple of years, I realized that readers became more aware of climate change, and it has become more common for political and religious leaders to address this issue and try to raise people’s awareness about its dangers and the need to start taking effective steps to deal with the climate crisis.
The Covid-19 pandemic has also contributed to raising this awareness, because we have become aware of the impact of human intervention in a way that disrupts the ecosystem, so there is more interest in this topic and journalists started to focus more on environmental issues.
Do you encourage other women journalists to cover climate change? Why?
Of course, I encourage both men and women journalists to start covering climate change. Two months ago, I launched the Climate School initiative, which aims to encourage journalists in Egypt and the Arab region to write more about climate change. Through this initiative, we share with them available regional and international grants and opportunities. We also organize free trainings on topics related to covering biodiversity and how to use video journalism to raise awareness on climate change and environmental issues and on the basics of environment and climate journalism. All of this aims to encourage journalists to be more focused on the environmental cause, especially that we are now suffering from the impact of this crisis on our daily lives, and it will keep impacting us in the coming years.
The climate crisis is real, and we have to counter it by changing our behaviors, existing policies and the way we consume natural resources. Our role as journalists is to spread awareness about the climate crisis, motivate people to increase their interest in environmental stories and start using environmentally friendly resources. As for women journalists in particular, and given that the small number of women journalists in the Arab region who are interested in this topic, this allows them to compete on an international level and to benefit from numerous grants, opportunities and training organized by international institutions, which will contribute to the development of their work and professional life.