Whenever a natural calamity strikes Pakistan, aid agencies spring to their feet to help those in need, but questions have recently been raised, if this aid effectively reaches women in affected regions.
Although cultural traditions prevent access to women in many parts of the country, the issue has slowly emerged on the radars of those delivering aid and relief.
In this context, several issues have come to light, among them shortage of women relief workers, lack of mobility of women in distress, no proper health care and no separate washrooms.
To make matters worse, women who do not possess the National Identity Cards simply do not qualify for early recovery and rehabilitation programmes.
These demands form part of a Charter of Rights for Women in Disaster developed by the Potohar Organisation on Development Advocacy (PODA) in collaboration with the National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW) and United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM, now UN Women).
The charter follows consultations held with rural women from affected areas held in Islamabad, Hyderabad, Multan, Peshawar and Quetta. It demands women should be consulted for their specific needs by aid agencies working in disaster-hit areas.
According to the charter, women-headed households should be accommodated in camps and other rehabilitation and relief activities on a priority basis.
The charter calls for proper sanitation facilities for women, lady doctors for sick and pregnant women, protection and complaint mechanism to ensure compliance of harassment act and ending violence against women.
During relief work, women’s safety, their gender-specific needs and privacy should be respected and facilitated, says the charter. It also highlights the need for taking special measures to accommodate women home-based workers.
PODA Director Sameena Nazir points out rural women in Pakistan face double discrimination in times of disaster because they are women and because they are poor and disadvantaged.
“It is therefore critical for policy makers and disaster relief providers to make extra efforts to include women in all stages of disaster mitigation so that women survivors are seen as solution-makers.”
Amjad Jamal, a spokesperson for the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) says there is now great realisation about the seriousness of this issue. “We now have UN protection clusters that ensure benefit of every relief programme reaches women.” But he conceded in certain situations doing so becomes difficult, for instance dropping food to people from helicopters. Read More