Recent flooding in Pakistan is a telling sign that climate change is a factual, existing threat to our planet. Pakistan produces less than 1 percent of GHGs emissions but is the eighth most effected country by climate change. The unusually high monsoon rainfall and consequent flooding in the country has wreaked havoc with people’s lives and livelihoods, about one-third of the country. The floods have affected 33 million people, swallowed life of more than a thousand people, damaged millions of acres farmland, livestock, destroyed homes, roads, buildings, and all in all caused a damage of more than $10 billion.
Certainly, any natural calamity impacts all the population in its proximity but it has impacted men and women’s wellbeing differently, concerning agricultural production, health, safety, food, water, and migration. The current super floods have resulted in the destruction of agricultural land and livestock production, exacerbating food shortage, hunger, inflation, poverty, declined exports, devastation of the rural livelihoods and infrastructure in the country. Children and women are considered as the most affected and vulnerable groups in any catastrophe. Many studies show that in developing countries women suffer more than men by disasters such as floods, storms, heat waves, and droughts, etc.
In the current context, floods have left an adverse gender-specific impact in areas such as women’s health and wellbeing, loss of assets, sources of income, rise in poverty level, increase in violence/abuse, increased workload, early marriages, and education. The main factors behind these disproportionate effects are poor socioeconomic conditions such as low/or no education, unequal distribution of resources, food insecurity, unequal labour division, lack of decision-making power, low employment opportunities, and cultural barriers and norms. These factors can reinforce the vulnerability of women, when they already have fewer opportunities to become aware about climatic risks and how to cope with them.
In rural areas of Pakistan, women’s participation in agricultural activities ranges from cultivation and harvesting, to looking after the livestock, to production and preparation of food/dairy products, to taking care of the household and family, thus making them more susceptible. They play a substantial part in ensuring food security as well as alleviating poverty by managing and helping hand in agriculture and livestock productivity. Rural women are more reliant on agriculture sector for their livelihoods, therefore, turmoil in agriculture sector increases their susceptibility. The flood has not only taken away their lands, but has also pushed them into unemployment and poverty. Moreover, lack of access to food and clean drinking water in flood-hit areas creates serious health problems such as malnutrition in girls and women. In the aftermath of the floods, the inequality in gender labour division will also be exacerbated. The mobility of women that is already very limited will further be impeded due to cultural restraints or the absence of a male counterpart, making it difficult for them to uplift themselves financially. Lack of decision-making power, no/limited access to economic resources, assistance and funding, and unpaid labour in agriculture are some other factors that make women more vulnerable.
Studies show that the susceptibility of pregnant women will also increase. An estimated 0.6 million females in flood-affected areas are pregnant, with some expected to give birth this month. Extreme floodwater, food and water scarcity has made these women to leave their homes. This displacement lowers the access to hospitals and pre- and post-natal care, resulting in health problems in mothers as well as infants, in addition to pregnancy related morbidities and mortality. Besides, women in flooded areas are also vulnerable to menstrual management problems or private sanitary areas as it is difficult for them to find private places in such deplorable situation. This will lower their personal development and self-esteem, not to mention the unhygienic sanitary conditions they are exposed to. Moreover, it is estimated that the ratio of dropping out girls from schools during and after the disaster will be higher as compared to boys due to displacement, domestic workload, and fewer financial resources. The risk of forced and early marriages also rises due to financial instability.
The vulnerability of women is accentuated by domestic violence, harassment, and abuse in such disasters even in shelters/camps. Floods have destroyed the livelihoods of people, which increases stress and strangely raises incidences of domestic violence. These concerns are mostly overlooked and services to avert such violence are not provided in those areas. Apart from this, there is a high level of psychological distress, panic attacks, anxiety, sleep disorder, and depression. Grief of losing their loved ones, homes, assets, and displacement can negatively impact their mental health. Moreover, fever, skin diseases, colds and coughs, typhoid, rashes, jaundice, conjunctivitis, and cholera are some of the diseases that spread after flooding and have affected women and children more due to their physical weaknesses.
The current situation has shattered the lives and livelihoods of millions of people in Pakistan. Government, Armed Forces of Pakistan, private institutes, NGOs, domestic and overseas Pakistanis as well as international organizations are already working round the clock to rescue and deliver humanitarian aid to flood-hit populations. It is imperative that while all the relief work is being done, special attention should be given to women related issues in order to reduce the vulnerability of women as well as giving them social protection to ward off the effects of this disaster. Some of the steps that can be taken in order to alleviate the gender-specific impact of recent flooding in Pakistan are:
• There should be gender-specific programs and funds to address gender-based needs
• There need to recognize the significance of the role of rural agricultural women workers and enhance their legal status for greater gender equality. Provision and access to credit, technical and financial assistance, improved and latest technology, etc., to women should be ensured to lessen the negative impact on women and their communities. Moreover, for sustaining their livelihoods, they should be engaged in income-generating activities especially to female-headed families to increase inclusion of women in shaping agricultural policies and strategies to promote rural women leadership
• Provision of direct relief to pregnant women to ensure safe deliveries. Skilled and trained staff should be present in affected areas with essential medical supplies. Moreover, establishing a birth centre, and newborn care facilities can also help to save lives of infants and mothers
• There is a need to plan maternity cash benefit programs to support childbearing women and help them to overcome health risks, economic and financial hardship
• Mental health interventions after disasters are necessary to help people, especially women to overcome out of trauma. There is need to provide effective psychological care centres in flood-affected areas to help in counselling and assisting those in need
• It is necessary to control violence against women in affected areas by ensuring law enforcement. Establishment of violence reporting desks should be ensured to help decrease violence against women
• There is a need for hygienic and effective menstrual management for women in flood-hit areas. Sanitary supplies as well as separate toilets should be made available
• Lastly, including women in calamity planning would lessen discrimination and stereotypes. Providing women climate education and giving them training of climate-related risks can lower their dependence. This action will not only empower them but also create awareness about disaster-related knowhow
The super floods have left an unfathomable impact on survivors’ minds of losing their lives, loved ones, homes, businesses, and livestock. The flooding has caused destruction on a massive scale from health to mortalities, to massive community dislocation to loss of livelihood to access to education. The situation calls for fighting the crisis using our limited resources and capacities to construct adaptive resilience. But while we undertake the humongous task of relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction, we should be mindful of gender-specific issues that if overlooked would only worsen the situation. HH
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