When the shelters were built in climate vulnerable areas, gender sensitive infrastructure was not part of the design, says the planning minister
Climate vulnerable areas need women friendly infrastructure, such as shelters with separate toilets and living arrangements. Women’s needs during a climate disaster are often overlooked in the action plan, according to experts.
They were speaking at a digital roundtable, “Securing life and livelihood of women and girls of climate-vulnerable areas: Hurdles and Hopes”, jointly organized by Manusher Jonno Foundation (MJF) and Dhaka Tribune on Thursday.
Ainun Nishat, professor emeritus at the Centre for Climate Change and Environment Research (C3ER) under BRAC University, said that setting up shelter centres near climate disaster prone areas was not enough for women.
“Women need separate toilets in shelter centres. Climate change has a damaging effect on women’s reproductive capacity as well. This is why designing policies for disaster management should be gender sensitive,” he added.
He also said that the planning commission’s guideline on disaster management was well-designed but the real problem was with implementation.
Ainun Nishat warned that sea levels would rise higher than had been projected, which posed a grave threat to people living in disaster-prone areas.
Planning Minister MA Mannan said that women, children and the elderly were always more vulnerable when there was a climate disaster.
When the shelters were built in climate vulnerable areas, gender sensitive infrastructure was probably not part of the design plan, he said.
Mannan further said: “However, things are changing and the government is willing to take recommendations from experts, like the panellists today, to improve the action plan and policies.”
Dr Sharmind Neelormi, professor at the Department of Economics at Jahangirnagar University, said climate change should be seen from a woman’s perspective because issues like child marriage and reproductive health damage affected women and girls disproportionately.
Moderating the roundtable, Dhaka Tribune’s Executive Editor Reaz Ahmad said: ”It should not be a choice between life and livelihood for women. We need to focus on both.”
He also said the recommendations and suggestions that had come from the panel should be considered in the formulation of policies about disaster management.
Presenting the keynote paper, Ahsanul Wahed of MJF, said in an assessment conducted among the beneficiaries of the organization, 61% reported that they found no separate toilet facilities for women in the cyclone shelter while 98% beneficiaries reported of not having any separate breast feeding facility for lactating mothers at the shelters.
He pointed out a few reasons behind the impediments women faced during a disaster, including limited facilities for women and girls in access to financial resources--limited access to local markets for selling produce, especially during the pandemic, limited access to information and illiteracy in remote climate vulnerable areas and social norms which discourage women from engaging in earning livelihood and other social activities.
Shaheen Anam, executive director of MJF, noted that some problems, like scarcity of freshwater during a climate disaster, were common in almost every climate vulnerable area but that different areas needed locally tailored solutions to this problem.
Chakma Raja Debashish Roy said freshwater scarcity in the hill tracts region was more severe during a disaster and even deep tube wells could not pump out fresh water in that area.