In Pakistan, pregnant women left behind as floods sweep away maternal health care

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PAkistan is suffering the worst of disasters due to unprecedented monsoon rains and subsequent flooding. The exact loss and damage to crops, homes, livelihoods and animals cannot be determined at this stage as the devastation continues.

Natural disasters and calamities themselves are gender neutral. They affect everyone. However, the humanitarian crises they cause affect the female population much more severely. UN Under-Secretary-General Asako Okai recently said that when disaster strikes, women and children are 14 times more likely to die than men. According to UN Women, more than 70% of women suffer from various forms of gender discrimination in humanitarian crises.

Women and girls are more vulnerable than men and boys in times of calamity. All the more so when they belong to the low-income or no-income social stratum. These women and girls are the lowest priority when it comes to rescue, relief and rehabilitation. Therefore, they are the most exposed to devastation.

When the disaster subsides and (so-called) rehabilitation begins, women are pushed even further into poverty. Their workload increases, they have less access to basic health services and education. They are given less preference when it comes to work and job opportunities. More often than not, their salaries are lower than those of their male counterparts and many more girls drop out of school than boys. Last but not least, women and girls become vulnerable to greater sexual abuse, harassment and human trafficking under calamitous conditions.

Women and girls suffer the most during natural calamities.

Women in agriculture suffer the most from having completely lost their livelihoods. In the absence of income and food shortages, levels of malnutrition among women and girls increase. Numerous World Bank reports testify to this. The majority of agricultural workers have never put their savings in the bank, if they ever had any.


Read also: Livestock on life support: Where Pakistan’s floods hit hardest


In disaster situations, shelter, food and clean water are the primary needs. Already malnourished women and girls are easy prey for waterborne diseases caused by unsanitary conditions in camps and shelters.

Women in rural areas already face reproductive health challenges due to the lack of even basic maternal health care facilities and qualified female doctors. When natural calamities strike, pregnancy and childbirth put women at great risk and increase their vulnerability, especially if they are displaced, living in camps and tents far from city centers and without health care facilities. CARE Pakistan’s Country Director said, “When disasters like this happen, we know from experience that it is women, girls and other marginalized groups who face the greatest challenges, including access to humanitarian aid.

Pregnant women have nowhere to give birth safely as the floods have washed away their homes and health facilities. Their lives and those of their babies are in danger without proper maternal care.

Additionally, damage to roads and bridges severely compromise girls’ and women’s access to health facilities, while simultaneously reducing access to GBV prevention and response services. Medical and psychosocial support for GBV survivors is virtually non-existent during these times.

In such dire circumstances, it is imperative that women legislators and political representatives put aside their differences and come forward, along with other social activists, to support and assist the government and relief agencies in reaching out to women affected. It is important not only to save them from immediate danger, but also to ensure that camps and shelters suitable for women meet their basic needs and are equipped with toilets, health and hygiene kits, clothing, pads/menstrual pads and nutritional supplements for pregnant women. mothers.

Priority should then be given to providing psychological and emotional support to women who have been affected by the floods, have lost family members and have been displaced.


Read also: Pakistan floods: Protest erupts against administration after 6-year-old child dies of starvation


There is an urgent need to develop comprehensive, sex-disaggregated data on the devastation and impact of natural disasters on women and girls. The issues and needs of women and girls, especially those that the government and humanitarian organizations have ignored, must be highlighted. Mainstream media and social media must report on the situation of women and girls who have been displaced and live in camps.

Despite several natural calamities, no government has developed a concrete disaster preparedness plan for the future. Policies and plans should be based on lessons learned. Disaster management plans and disaster risk reduction plans should be developed, incorporating gender-sensitive actions.

The needs of women and girls must be integrated into rescue, relief and rehabilitation plans. Opportunities can be identified from the disaster experience to change traditional gender roles and improve women’s participation in rehabilitation and reconstruction initiatives.

The writer is a lawyer. Views are personal.

This article was the first published in Dawn and has been republished here with permission.

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