Onno Ruhl is the first General Manager of the Aga Khan Agency for Habitat (AKAH), created in 2016 to address the increasing threat posed by natural disasters and climate change. Aga Khan Foundation Canada sat down with Onno during a visit to Canada to talk about the links between climate change and gender equality.
Can you describe some of the ways AKAH advances gender equality?
In our work, AKAH’s bread and butter is water supply and sanitation. Of the service delivery sectors, this is the one with the most direct impact on the ability of girls and women to improve their engagement in society, because it frees their time from hauling water to being able to pursue schooling and then become, professionally or otherwise, in a different position to contribute to society, which is incredibly important for lifting communities out of poverty.
We also strive for gender equality through our volunteers. AKAH has 23,000 volunteers, and in each team we strive for and mostly achieve 50 percent women or more, including in Afghanistan. This is only possible because our roots in the communities where we work are deep and long-standing.
How are some of the issues you’re dealing with different for women and girls?
When you’re planning for opportunity, you’re thinking about how people can, over time, lift themselves out of poverty. So if you do that, then it’s really important to realize that that’s an intergenerational move.
Now in most societies where we work, the traditional image would be that the sons of the family would follow the footsteps of the father. To keep it simple, if they’re farmers, the sons will likely be farmers. Then you suddenly realize that if even just one of the girls can become a nurse, which is possible in the AKDN, the entire family would have an entirely different future.
So that’s an example of a family. If you multiply that, you don’t just focus on the young, you focus on the female young because that’s where the biggest delta is.
I say that not meaning anything against boys. They can and should make the best of their lives, too. But if you actually focus on empowering the girl child, [development] can go very fast, I believe.
This is a preview of a longer interview with Onno Ruhl, which will be released in celebration of World Environment Day in June 2020. This interview was edited for brevity and clarity.