THE disaster management and rehabilitation programmes in Bangladesh have long been proved to be inadequate and flawed. A recently published qualitative research among sex workers in the capital city further substantiates this point. At a conference on ‘women, poverty and migration,’ organised by BRAC University and Warwick University, as New Age reported on Friday, researcher presented their study finding that says that about 84 per cent of sex workers had come to the capital looking for work after losing their houses to natural disasters. According to the study, about 38 per cent of the sex workers came from the coastal regions, 30 per cent from flood-prone areas, 21 per cent from areas hit by river erosion and the rest from areas hit by other natural calamities such as draught. The study reveals that inadequate and inefficient disaster management and relief programmes left them with no option but to migrate to Dhaka. There has been little or no relief and rehabilitation programmes directed to serve the need of women during any natural disasters. During the flood this year, there were stories of gender-specific violence reported by the media. In policy conversations and dialogues, the importance of gender-sensitive disaster management programmes is mentioned quite often. However, taking into consideration the study results, it seems obvious that these policies are hardly effectively translated into action.
The particular vulnerability and risk of women in the time of disaster is widely documented. In a 2014 survey on women in natural disasters in the southern coastal region, it was found that 60 per cent of women who stayed in cyclone shelters responded that they were harassed, molested and ogled at. While new provisions for women and girls include special cash grants for pregnant and lactating mothers, clean delivery kits, and ‘dignity kits’ — (personal hygiene supplies, a flashlight, and a whistle — there is room for improvement in gender-based violence prevention and child protection. Moreover, it is not only about ensuring security for women during disasters, any rehabilitation programme also needs to address women’s economic hardship. Women’s livelihood and displacement issues particularly for those who are victims of river erosion need to be addressed. In general, the disaster management programmes in Bangladesh is focused on providing shelter and relief during flood, cyclone or other similar situations. The rehabilitation is largely geared towards the livelihood of the male earning members of the family that reflects gender bias of society at large.
The study result proves that there is a gap between the gender-inclusive disaster management policy and its implementation. The government, under the circumstances, must address the issues of women in its disaster management programmes. In doing so, it should review its existing rehabilitation programmes on an urgent basis to specifically find why it is failing women to that extent that they are left with no option but to choose sex work for their survival.
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