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Women and disasters

A report titled 'Caught in the Storm' detailing the disproportionate impact on women of Dec 26th tsunami was released on Tuesday, writes Shalini Narang.

india Updated: Dec 15, 2005 19:33 IST

A report titled 'Caught in the Storm' detailing the disproportionate impact on women of December 26th tsunami and other disasters that occurred this year was released on Tuesday, December 13thby the San Francisco based Global Fund For Women (GFW). The fund is the largest foundation in the world working globally towards advancing women's rights.

Among the grants that the Fund gave in the aftermath of tsunami, six grants totalling to about $50,000 were disbursed to groups in India helping women rebuild their livelihoods and lives. These groups include Development for Rural Oppressed Peoples Service Society in Sivagangai in Andhra Pradesh, Gandhian Unit for Integrated Development Education in Chengalpattu in Tamil Nadu, Indira Female Peer Educators Collective (IFPEC) in Chennai and Tsunami Relief and Rehabilitation Co-ordination in Madurai.

IFPEC used its $10,000 grant to provide relief materials and expenses including provisions, medical costs, travel costs to displaced women to help them visit their homes and purchase dresses, fishing nets, tarps for shelter, cooking vessels, books for girls to continue their education, and costs associated with boat engine repairs. The other major component of its relief work includes counselling services for women survivors who had not only lost their homes and livelihoods, but also their families including children.

The report co authored by Kavita N Ramdas and Lin Chew describes the impact of natural disasters on women including estimates that three times more women than men died in tsunami and in the chaos and social breakdown that accompany natural disasters, the incidence of rape and domestic violence against women significantly rises. The disaster relief efforts often fail to address women's health needs like pregnant women's lack of access to prenatal care resulting in miscarriage or delivery in unsanitary conditions. The report also contains recommendations for disaster relief groups, governments and NGOs to reduce the threats and risks to women's lives.

Kavita is an expert in international women's rights and has served as the President and CEO of the GFW since 1996. Through her leadership, the annual grant making has risen over 500 per cent, and Fund's assets have grown from $6 million to more than $20 million. She opines, "Indian NGOs can lean a lot from their international counterparts and international cooperation in both disaster management and everyday women's issues can be symbiotic and bring sustainable solutions faster to the most needed."

Lin Chew is an expert in trafficking and migrant labour and an Activist in Residence at the GFW. She travelled throughout the tsunami-affected regions of Asia in the spring of 2005 with women's organisations that had distributed immediate relief supplies and gathered information on women's conditions in the aftermath of the disaster. She provided critical guidance to the Fund following her survey.

Grants made by the organisation are aimed at expanding the choices available to women and girls, securing their efforts at strengthening economic independence, increased access to education and violence prevention. Since 1987, the organization has awarded over $44 million to seed, fortify and link nearly 3,000 groups in 162 countries.

The fund's grants to organisations in India date back to 1989. Kavita says, "We receive the largest number of grant proposals from India of all countries." The spectrum of current grantees includes India's vast geography and myriad issues. From organisations working in the remotest rural regions in north east India for labour and land rights to an organisation working for fisherwomen of Mahabalipuram and from a group in Calcutta involved in lesbian rights to a national domestic welfare trust in Delhi working for the rights of domestic workers in India.

"The median grants amount to India is $6,700. Awareness of women's rights has definitely risen in India and strong women leadership is visible in varied areas. Governmental and private sector accountability has also grown but technological and financial growth of India is not all hunky dory. Female foetal abortion rates are the highest in rich states like Punjab and Delhi and medical advances in ultrasound and other procedures have made the process of sex discrimination and elimination faster and simpler. Women have newer obstacles to face with technological advances but are better equipped than their mothers or grand mothers were to face the societal, financial and other challenges including the demons of communalism and fundamentalism," she adds.