Story of a true climate champion
Although women should be felicitated every day of the year, International Women’s Day (IWD) gives an extra opportunity for the world to reflect and at the same time take charge of the driving seat and steer the wheels to finding more ways towards gender equality.
This year the theme of International Women’s Day circles around the word challenge. As per IWD’s statement, a challenged world is an alert world — consequently, individuals can choose to call out these challenges which are in the form of gender biases, unfair acts towards women in both professional and domestic settings, different forms of inequalities present around them and so on. They can choose to call out and face these challenges for a better tomorrow. Hence, it can be asserted that from challenges comes change and this year IWD is asking the world to choose and change.
When discussing these challenges that need to be addressed, the world, especially developing countries like us must not forget to highlight one of the growing problems that is impacting millions of women and girls in both rural and urban settings of the country. A challenge that often goes unobserved and undiscussed is climate change. A changing climate affects everyone, everywhere; but, it is in fact the poorest, the most marginalized and those in vulnerable situations, (especially women and girls), who bear the impact of it environmentally, economically, and socially.
For example, women living in rural settings (including coastal-belts and hilly areas) shoulder key responsibilities that involve managing household water supply. They are accountable for the more time-consuming and labour-intensive tasks, such as walking long distances to carry heavy gallons of water for household use. This ultimately leaves less time for these women and girls to access training and education, develop skills or even earn an income. Which results in them having less knowledge to participate in any decision-making process. Lack of education and skill further makes them negligible and less involved in the distribution of natural goods. Consequently, due to these shortages added with the absence of leadership abilities women in these areas of the country are less able to confront climate change.
Combined with the fact that climate change has a greater impact on people who are heavily dependent on natural resources for their livelihoods, these women in the rural and/or hard-to-reach areas of our country also have the least capacity to respond to the increasingly severe natural disasters such as droughts, landslides, floods, and cyclones, particularly in the coastal belts of the country. The story of those living on the frontline of a harsher climate is simply not being accounted for or heard and this is another challenge that needs to change.
According to the United Nations, in spite of their vulnerability, women in general are viewed as survivors of climate change. Such is the story of Anita Das, 40, a homemaker in Trimohoni village of Dacope’s Koilashganj union in Khulna. Anita’s story is of a dynamic and successful woman who became a specialist and advocate of adaptation and mitigation through her fight with climate change impact.
Anita along with her husband and four children (two daughters and two sons) lives in one of Bangladesh’s remote areas that is prone to climate disasters. Being in a constant battle with climate change the village of Trimohoni suffers from increased water salinity and limited access to clean water sources. With a population size of 16,089, the area has only one lake which is heavily utilised by the community people. However, with only 2,899 toilets in total many people do not have access to decent toilets as out of this only 1,279 have hygiene facilities and therefore they often use the lake for defecation and urination. Moreover, due to climate disasters, the remaining toilets have become completely unusable.
Due to these issues, Anita and her family have suffered in terms of no access to good hygiene or decent toilets and at the same time consumption of extreme saline water had caused severe stomach diseases including diarrhoea and abdominal pains for the entire family. Anita’s younger son suffers from a physical impairment which made it even harder for him and the entire family in aiding him with proper WASH amenities. The women in the household faced greater health risk as managing their periods hygienically and with dignity became extremely difficult. Both Anita and her two daughters suffered from lack of privacy to clean their menstrual products and at the same time, the use of dirty water resulted in regular infections.
In light of all these issues, Anita wanted to make a lasting difference in and for her community. Therefore, with the help from WaterAid Bangladesh along with their partner Rupantor Anita built a decent toilet for her family. At the same time Anita voluntarily took different tips and tricks from the two organizations to learn about adaptation in climate vulnerable areas. She realized that even if entities like WaterAid and Rupantor helped them now, she would be responsible to sustain these facilities for the future. Therefore, she trained herself on the issues relating to WASH and climate change impacts and learned how to maintain the newly built toilets and also proper hygiene as now she had access to proper WASH amenities. With her newly gained knowledge, skill and resources, Anita advocated her knowledge on the importance of maintaining proper hygiene in extreme climate vulnerable areas to her family, friends, and neighbors.
And, as a number of the women are now trained with the essential skills to be able to maintain proper hygiene around the community, Trimohoni is now sustainable and resilient to future climate and WASH pressures.
How does Anita feel about this new change? She states in one of her interviews:
“When we started using the toilet built by WaterAid and Rupantar, I noticed a significant change in my health and my family's as well. We used to suffer from diarrhea and stomach upsets almost every month but after the toilet was built, stomach upsets have become a rare case for my family. I did not know stomach upsets were caused by the unhygienic toilet we used to use. Now I try to keep the toilet clean for our health. I try to maintain menstrual hygiene and keep menstrual products clean as much as possible.”
The case of Anita was a good example for the discussion that went on in Gobeshona Global Conference on Day 6 under the session titled, “Untold Tales of Women Champions in Climate Change”. The panel stressed numerous times on the very importance of women taking leadership roles in climate vulnerable areas, as in most cases these women are the ones who take the burden of its effect.
Farida Easmin, Executive Director Nari Association for Revival, and Initiative, Kurigram stated, “Development of women is about the development of a family, of a nation.” This is exactly what happened in Anita’s story. She encouraged change among her peers.
Saima Wazed, Chairperson of Suchona Foundation and Thematic Ambassador of Climate Vulnerable Forum later expressed, “We are inspired by the challenges we are facing. Because we want to make a difference, in our life, in our community and inspire others.” Wazed along with IWD 2021 asked the world to be like Anita, where she chooses to challenge and then change.
People may think that what Anita did was in no way grand or revolutionary, she simply took knowledge and built her skills to be more climate adaptable. However, through this small gesture Anita not only improved her family’s health but also improved the lifestyle of those around them. By gaining knowledge she made herself and her community aware of the very importance of climate change and WASH through which they became an adaptable community.
Let us therefore praise and applaud women like Anita who seek to find solutions to their problems, who take control of their rights and take on new challenges and risks in their uncertain lives. Through their incredible drive and ambition, they can bring about lasting change to secure the future of their family and community in the face of climate disasters. The world needs more climate champions who change lives in the simplest manners, who chooses to challenge.
Arusa Iqbal Rahim is working at WaterAid Bangladesh as a Communications Officer. Her research interest lies in development economics with a special concentration in women’s rights. She advocates profoundly for equal opportunities for both men and women. Through her role in WaterAid Bangladesh, she wants to ensure increased WASH amenities for the marginalized, especially women and children. Can be reached at [email protected]