By Dr. Khine Khine Win
Without doubt, climate change has greater impact on those sections of the population. Women comprise more than half of the today world’s population and are commonly face higher risks and greater burdens from the impact of climate change especially in situation of poverty. A United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) study shows that in a natural disaster, women and children are 14 times more likely to die than men.
Climate change worsens gender inequality. Gender equality does not imply that women and men are the same, but that they have equal value, rights and should be accorded equal opportunity. Marginalized populations including women tend to be disproportionately and negatively impacted and women are affected by climate change differently due to their social and economic inequality. Based on survey result, the large majority of deaths are women during disaster. In countries where gender inequality is more severe, death rates of women in climate-related disasters are shockingly high. For instance, women accounted for 61% of fatalities caused by Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar in 2008, 70–80% in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, and 91% in the 1991 cyclone in Bangladesh.
A study of the cyclone that ravaged much of Bangladesh in 1991 suggested that many women and children perished in their homes because as they waited for men to make evacuation decisions. A study by Oxfam found that four times as many women died after the Indian Ocean tsunami in some villages — in part, because women were less likely to know how to swim or climb trees to save themselves. Women tend to be less aware of how to protect themselves and have less knowledge about disaster occurrences. That struggle comes on top of the unique challenges of dealing with climate change in regions with little money, infrastructure, or government support.
During community consultations for a United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) climate change gender vulnerability assessment, the women of Pinsalu and Labutta villages which were worst affected by the May 2008 Cyclone Nargis, said they need to be better prepared for natural disasters as they are primarily responsible for the safety of vulnerable family members.
Women and children are more vulnerable to the health effects of climate change. For instance, data for 2000 and 2012 from South-east Asia show that diarrhoeal diseases, which are common during instances of flooding, killed more women than men. Indeed women suffered malnutrition following a disaster as pregnant and breastfeeding mothers may be neglected. If climate change makes certain water and wood sources more unreliable, these water- and wood-gatherers mostly women will have to walk farther every day, limiting the time they have to perform other tasks, like earn money, learn new skills, or simply rest. It is a kind of human rights threat too.
In climate change mitigation, women often seen as victims and treated such rather than involving them in decision-making. What makes it harder for women is that they are under-represented in decision-making when it comes to climate change. They have far lower access to management of natural resources.
Here is a question. How to protect women and girls after a disaster? These are the some facts that we can help women and girls after disaster. First and foremost important thing is we need to recognize women as actors, not just victims. Women should be seen as partners when interacting with men during an emergency or disaster response. 2. Government and international agencies should be aware of gender issues in the distribution of relief items.3. The government has to assess the risk of violence to women and girls and address their specific needs. As women are less likely to survive disasters, and that planning and warning systems need to be responsive to this reality. 4. Shelters should be guarded. 5. Showers and latrines for women and girls should be private and secured. 6. Donors need to dedicate more funding to reproductive health services, awareness-raising of gender-based violence, and counseling and treatment for women and girls. 7. Relief services need to be designed with civil society women’s networks at the planning table with the cooperation of government agencies. 8. Women’s participation in disaster risk reduction (DRR) decision-making processes at all levels throughout the country should be high. These are the some facts which can help women and girls after disaster.
Like many other developing countries, Myanmar is particularly vulnerable to natural disasters such as floods, and earthquakes. And like many human and natural disasters, extreme weather events affect certain populations disparately and unfairly. 2016 Climate Risk index shows that Myanmar is the second-most vulnerable country in the world to the affect of climate change.
To conclude, I would like to highlight here is that this is the time to take urgent action for climate change and also time to emphasize the needs and roles of women in building a culture of disaster resilience.