Kashvi Chandok (she/her) - a student researcher at the University of Delhi
Globally, displacement due to climate change requires immediate attention from various international, inter-governmental and humanitarian councils. However, what is often missed from these discussions are the issues of gender marginalisation exacerbated by climate change. A recent report by CARE International says that prevailing gender inequality often intersects with other forms of vulnerabilities which limit women and girls’ access to resources and decision-making power, inhibiting their ability to withstand the impacts of climate change, access basic services and recover from climate-related disasters.
In an already divided world, vulnerable groups, especially women from poor households, are disproportionately affected due to displacement caused by climate change. Poverty, inadequate healthcare infrastructure and financial dependency are just a few of the factors that cause such ill effects. Moreover, when women are displaced, they lose the access to the familiarity of their surroundings. Most communities in India for example, the tribal communties utilise traditional and local resources for sustainance whether that’s for gathering food, collecting woods or maintaining their own hygiene. Something like climate change which triggers displacement leads to the loss of menstrual and personal hygeine for women from such communities. There is a growing need in India for equitable climate dialogue where issues of marginalisation and displacement are lobbied between the public and the state, however, that is far from being achieved in a country that lacks basic data about its own citizens.
The primary reason for increased inequality is the lack of access to resources that are critical in rural economics such as agricultural land and associated production technology between men and women.Women in India face low rates of employment in the labour market and face disadvantages in terms of training and lower payments for the same or similar work. In the Global Gender Gap Report 2020 released every year by the World Economic Forum, India ranked 112 out of 149 countries in global gap index. Seasonal fluctuation in work also disproportionately affects women due to greater task specificity of their work. As a result, women are unable to find long-term work and experience slack periods with a less chance of finding employment in these seasons as compared to their male counterparts.
Apart from financial instability, displacement also results in a rise in sexual violence and a lack of safe reproductive and feminine hygiene. Menstrual needs of women often take a setback due to climate displacement. In a country where period poverty is extremely rampant, women often have to rely on unsanitary methods for menstrual hygiene management (MHM) like clothes, newspaper or even ashes. A displaced group would have lesser belonging and resources with a long journey of difficult terrains ahead of them. Such situations hence act as an added hassle for menstruating people.
A report by The Economic Times stated that in 2020, the number of people displaced in India stands at 14 million. As the growing number of people are brutally rooted off of their homes because of climate change, precarious situations for women will continue to arise. However, the discourse on menstruation and migration goes way beyond the proponents of a singular household or even a community. States have a duty towards the displaced population to provide them with adequate living and healthcare infrastructure in such situations. Despite this, the Government of India has on multiple levels failed to recognise the plight of feminine hygiene especially menstrual hygiene management.
How do relief operations ignore the plight of menstruating women
In India, climate change induced disasters are a leading cause of displacement in various sub regions. The disaster recovery operations that soon follow such calamities seldom consider the menstrual requirements of people. Often, the requirement of safe menstrual products and proper facilities to use them are ignored by the relief workers. The restoration work is usually limited to restructuring and rebuilding of houses, however, the needs for menstruation and personal hygiene are not researched and executed during the operations. Periods don’t stop during a disaster, then why are menstrual needs neglected during relief programs in India?
Women, especially young girls face multiple problems while managing periods due to the displacement caused by climate change. Unhealthy conditions are rampant during and post such situations. Lack of clean water and proper food leads to the spread of diseases like diarrhoea, typhoid and dysentery. Skin diseases as a consequence of consuming contaminated water are also prevalent. In addition, menstruating people have an added burden of managing their periods. Often, women use unhygienic resources like used clothes, rags and even sand for their periods which leads to more diseases and skin problems.
A government study post the Assam floods of 2012, lays that during the production of relief kits, menstrual products were casually overlooked by the government. Further, the relief camps lacked adequate facilities for women to wash, dry and change their menstrual products. Due to inundation, women living in villages and marginalised areas lacked clean water supply to wash their used blood-stained clothes. Even during cyclone Phailin in Odisha, 2013, many women feared losing access to sanitary pads due to curfew restrictions. Post the cyclone, the relief programs focused entirely on providing shelter and food but again, menstrual needs were neglected. Women in general were responsible for most of the housework which when added with the neglect of their menstrual health resulted in them contacting various fungal diseases and infections.
The chief requirement for healthy menstrual practices during a relief operation, thus, remains clean water. An integrated approach towards providing water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities for menstrual hygiene management should be included in the framework while designing rescue and relief operations by the government. Women often bear the brunt of cultural taboos and systematic oppression that leave them deprived of something as necessary as menstrual hygeine, hence, a cross-sector approach must be taken by the government and responsible state actors to ensure that humanitarian actions meet women’s menstrual hygiene needs in emergency contexts.
CARE Climate Change, (2020). Evicted by Climate Change - CARE Climate Change. [online] Available at: <https://careclimatechange.org/evicted-by-climate-change/> [Accessed 26 April 2021].
VanLeeuwen, Crystal Belen and Torondel, (2018). “Improving menstrual hygiene management in emergency contexts: literature review of current perspectives.”. Research Gate, [online] Available at: <https://www.researchgate.net/publication/324394402_Improving_menstrual_hygiene_management_in_emergency_contexts_Literature_review_of_current_perspectives> [Accessed 26 April 2021].
Research gate, (2021). Menstrual_hygiene_A_%27silent%27_need_during_disaster_recovery. Research gate,[online] Available at: <https://www.researchgate.net/publication/305644815_Menstrual_hygiene_A_%27silent%27_need_during_disaster_recovery> [Accessed 26 April 2021].
ET Bureau, (2019). Over 4.5 crore people in India will be forced to migrate from homes by 2050 due to climate disasters. The Economic Times, [online] Available at: <https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/over-4-5-crore-people-in-india-will-be-forced-to-migrate-from-homes-by-2050-due-to-climate-disasters/articleshow/79797117.cms> [Accessed 26 April 2021].