Disasters affect men and women differently. Not just during the calamity, but also through the rescue and rehabilitation stage, this disparity chasm widens. The woman not only has to cook, clean, feed and take care of the family, but also faces the added confusion and indignity of water, sanitation and health issues. The difference is even more striking when she belongs to a lower socioeconomic group. Her vulnerability increases where society expectations and mindset follow a pre determined route that is gender specific and also men oriented.

To study and understand the gender dimensions of DRR-CCA, review of a research project “Towards Integrating Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation: Understanding Flood risk and Resilience in eastern India”, undertaken by Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group (GEAG) in collaboration with Institute for Social and Environmental Transition (ISET), USA and the National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM), was conducted.

Group discussions with women and youth in Gorakhpur district threw open many aspects of gendered vulnerabilities to climate change and disasters. Here are 7 major reasons why disasters script an agonising story for women and girls:

Surviving the floods
In the past 20 years, floods have ravaged Gorakhpur, leaving several dead. Unfortunately few women know how to swim or row boats, and thus are unable to save themselves in times of floods. Out of the 10 girls spoken to, 2 could swim and only one could row a boat. For the young boys and men, social norms dictated that both swimming and rowing was an intrinsic part of life.

Health issues
Toilets, during floods become inaccessible. This leaves the women with little choice than to go out into the open, more unsafe areas. Availability of sanitary napkins and timely medical help for pregnant women is another area of concern. Women tend to inherently spend lesser money and time on their treatment as compared to the men in their families, and hence miscarriages and UTI health issues crop up.

Increased work load
Ordinary life is fragmented by a disaster. The women face an increased domestic work load and tend to walk a longer distance foraging for fuel and water. Caring for the children and the elderly adds to their daily labour. Their men folk too tend to migrate in search of work, adding to their burden.

Reduced incomes
Lesser yield of crops and fodder affects their income and role as managers of food security. Those who live in peri urban areas are unable to go out for work in flood situations. Young educated women living in peri urban areas do not get employment easily, and opt for marriage or low end jobs.

Home and sanitation
Living in tents and managing with makeshift toilets after the floods, a women’s basic safety is at stake. Compensation for lost homes or land is rarely given to women, as they do not have the title deeds in their names.

Education
Schooling takes a back seat for both boys and girls, but damaged toilets discourage girls further from getting back to the school. As water recedes they do go back, but tend to skip school when they menstruate.

Safety of women
Living in safer, temporary areas, women’s safety is at stake. They are vulnerable to violence when they travel longer distance from home for fetching fuel/fodder. And in the relief camps, there is an added insecurity, where even the unknown male officials add to this troubled environment. Sexual exploitation too is a danger they face in the aftermath of disasters.

The important question that arises from this is whether these impacts can be mitigated. Can these disaster risks that are specific to women be addressed and reduced? If they can be integrated in the local disaster management plan, not only will the disaster mortality of women reduce, but the resilience of the society as a whole will improve.

This is the first blog based on the research project “Towards Integrating Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation: Understanding Flood risk and Resilience in eastern India”, undertaken by Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group (GEAG) in collaboration with Institute for Social and Environmental Transition (ISET), USA and the National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM).

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