By Rokhsana Khondker
Given Bangladesh is one of the countries worst-affected by climate change, there is an urgent need to understand and establish how gender along with socio-demographic factors of age, wealth, and class impacts the ways in which climate change is experienced. This has several legal, social and political implications both at a national and international level. With this in mind, Khan Foundation, based in Dhaka, Bangladesh undertook a scoping study, entitled “Women’s Sexual & Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) and Climate Change- What is the Connection?” in partnership with the Asian-Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women (ARROW), based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and funded by NORAD. The aim of this research was to identify and establish the linkages between gender equality and sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR) issues within the context of climate change.
The study, which covered flood/disaster-prone areas and coastal communities in Bangladesh, focused on infrastructure and accessibility in these areas and gender-based violence and other experiences under these stressful conditions. The methodological approach comprised both primary and secondary research. Primary methods included quantitative survey of rural women from flood/disaster-prone and coastal communities, and qualitative research covering key informant interviews with members of health, water/sanitation and disaster management local committees, Focus Group Discussions (FGDs) with the local community, and key discussions with climate change experts. Secondary research also covered extensive literature review of gender/climate change publications and review of national policies and legislation on women, health and climate change.
Key findings reveal that there are important interlinkages between climate change and SRHR. It is seen that the social and political context for women in Bangladesh, such as socio-cultural norms and limited access of women to decision-making, increases their exposure and vulnerability to climate change. This is especially true during and post climate change related disasters. Insecure environments in cyclone/flood shelters including overcrowded spaces and lack of privacy exists. There is occurrence of various forms of gender-based violence including harassment, which results in psychological stress among women and fear for themselves and their children. During climate change related disasters, the gendered impact of climate change is substantial. Our women respondents also indicated that women are especially vulnerable due to lack of access to medical care, services and other safety and hygiene products such as sanitation napkins or contraceptives.
One key recommendation is for national policies and programmes to incorporate gender perspectives on climate change and ensure coherence among and implementation of these policies and programmes. In this regard, there should be strong coordination among all the ministries and actors at the national level especially those in the Environment and Women Affairs ministries. Those policies and programmes that have already been formulated need to be implemented through proper allocation of human and financial resources. The role of women should be recognised to be vital in the households and also in the community as well as within the institutions and committees. Political empowerment of women is needed to achieve resilient communities where women and girls can adapt to climate change.
Another key recommendation concerns disaggregated data collection and data management. The Government should improve the overall data collection and management system. One idea is to create an extensive gender disaggregated database comprising of information on marginalised and vulnerable communities including data on all kinds of displacement and migration. This should be in panel data style so that follow up can be carried out. The Government should ensure gender sensitive climate change planning and organise training and capacity building of local government officials so that these programmes can be operationalised. Specific training should be organised on how to address gender-based violence in all aspects of disaster risk management.