Women are more vulnerable to climate disasters than men through their socially constructed roles and responsibilities and their relatively poorer and more economically vulnerable position especially in the developing world. Gender inequalities with respect to enjoyment of human rights, political and economic status, land ownership, housing conditions, exposure to violence, education and health in particularly reproductive and sexual health make women more vulnerable before, during and after climate change induced disasters.
During and immediately after disasters, death, diseases and injuries occur from such incidences as waterborne diseases, snake bites, drowning, fall of large trees and collapse of physical structures. In all such cases of danger women are particularly susceptible.
Lack of medical facilities, malnutrition, disrupted supply of pure drinking water and lack of proper sanitation facilities make women’s life increasingly vulnerable. During cyclones and floods women and adolescent girls suffer as sanitation systems are destroyed. Pregnant women, lactating mother and disabled women suffer the most as they find it difficult to quick move to safety before and after any disaster hit. Bangladesh happens to be the most vulnerable country to the impacts of climate change (IPCC). In Bangladesh women in low income households are heavily involved in economic activities. Mostly around homestead based production which contributes up to 17 percent of the household income (CPD, 2008). Independent livelihoods managed by women headed households are also an important aspect of the rural economy of south Asia and contribute up to 15 percent of the rural households income in Bangladesh (CPD, 2000). When poor women lose their livelihoods, they slip deeper into poverty, the gender induced inequality and marginalizations they suffer from also correspondingly increase. Climate change thus poses a very specific threat to their security. Our study found young men often take advantage of physical proximity of a young girl while all temporary refugees are cramped in a small room. The water logging forces women to stay in marooned conditions for several months a year. Prolonged exposure to filthy water causes severe skin diseases and gynecological problems to women. During prolonged water logging men often leave their families back home in search of employment, leaving the responsibility to take care of their family members on the shoulder of women, increasing their vulnerability. In absence of land based production system and incidence of acute poverty women often are forced to go for anti social works in their desperate bid to feed their children and their family members. During the dry season women and adolescent girls in some southern area of Bangladesh usually have to fetch drinking water from distant sources, even 5 to 6 km away from their homes everyday. When they go out to collect water, they are sometimes harassed by boys and men.
Young girls often sacrifice their academic activities to fetch saline water. Even pregnant women are forced to fetch water irrespective of distance between the source and their dwellings. They suffer from various gynecological problems in the long run for taking over extra burden of work and by using saline water during menstruation. Premature birth and abortion are reported in alarmingly high numbers in the study area. The study found thousands of instances that women could not timely respond to the call of nature for lack of privacy. Moving on embankments or road side highlands often put adults and young women in constant dangers of sexual harassment. Explaining the women bitter experiences about menstrual hygiene management women reported that saline water creates pain during menstruation. So, enhancement of institutional capacity to mainstream gender in global and national climate change and disaster risk reduction policies and operations through the development of gender policies, gender awareness, internal and external gender capacity and expertise, the development and application of relevant mechanisms and tools should be prioritized. As women constitute half of total population of Bangladesh, climate change and mitigation policies must address the gender issues.
Prof. Abul Kalam Md. Iqbal Faruk ([email protected]) is a member of CEESP. He is also a Environmental specialist and Gobeshona Research Steering Committee Member, International Centre for Climate Change & Development (ICCCAD) at the Independent University, Bangladesh (IUB), Dhaka. This article is based on a long paper available from the author.