Today in New Delhi, India
Oct 20, 2018-Saturday
-°C
New Delhi
  • Humidity
    -
  • Wind
    -

Women should lead the way in rebuilding Kerala

Today, we know that while floods, droughts, fires, earthquakes and tsunamis do not discriminate on the grounds of caste, religion or gender, their impact is profoundly discriminatory. Studies have shown that it is women (and the poor and marginalised) who bear their heaviest burden.

columns Updated: Aug 24, 2018 19:07 IST
Following a disaster, incidents of sexual and domestic violence shoot up and there is often a spike in the trafficking of children and women.Relief camps leave many women feeling vulnerable. (Raj K Raj/HT PHOTO)

When Swarna Rajagopalan, a political scientist who specialises in gender issues, mentioned the g-word at a meeting to discuss natural disasters, she was told curtly: “This is not about gender. It’s about an emergency.”

That was 10 years ago.

Today, we know that while floods, droughts, fires, earthquakes and tsunamis do not discriminate on the grounds of caste, religion or gender, their impact is profoundly discriminatory. Studies have shown that it is women (and the poor and marginalised) who bear their heaviest burden.

UNDP reports that women and girls are 14 times more likely to die in a disaster than men. The 2004 tsunami killed four times as many women as it did men while 90% of those who died in the 1991 Bangladesh flood were women, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Partly this is because women are not taught to swim or climb trees. Partly it’s because they are more likely to stay back to try and save children and elderly parents.

And in some cases, says Rajagopalan who co-edited a book, Women and Disasters in South Asia, women were tragically trapped in their own long hair and saris.

Interestingly, a 2008 study of natural disasters in 141 countries finds that in societies where women and men enjoy equal rights, the number of deaths were the same.

It’s not just mortality. Following a disaster, incidents of sexual and domestic violence shoot up and there is often a spike in the trafficking of children and women.

Relief camps leave many women feeling vulnerable. In Kerala, says The News Minute founder-editor Dhanya Rajendran, relief camps have been segregated and so far, there have been no untoward reports, barring one incident, not at a camp but a girl’s hostel in Chengannur.

Yet, even in the camps, “Sanitation is a serious issue as there is only one stinking toilet,” says Rajendran. “Even if you get hold of a sanitary napkin, where are you supposed to dispose of it?”

And then comes the long haul of rebuilding lives. Inevitably, the additional responsibility of caring for the injured, sick and elderly will fall on women.

In some cases they will do so as new widows; in all cases they will do it from a weakened financial position.

But women are not just victims. They can play a key role in reconstruction, says Rajagopalan.

Kerala, already high on human development indices, now has a unique opportunity in how it designs its reconstruction. What position will it give to women?

By involving them in planning, the state will be able to develop a new generation of women leaders and also provide a paradigm.

Already, activist Sunitha Krishnan has announced that her organisation will help in rebuilding the poorest homes by sending in a team of welders and carpenters.

All of them will be women.

@NamitaBhandare writes on social issues

The views expressed are personal

First Published: Aug 24, 2018 19:06 IST