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Resilience|Women On the Move

Thursday, October 13, 2016 - 14:59

Women On the Move: Social mobility helping to overcome flooding

Adopted from a case study written Partha Protim Mazumder and Adaline Zaman from ActionAid Bangladesh. 

The North Channel Union in Bangladesh is a semi-permanent island area situated in the middle of the Padma River. Residents of this area are especially vulnerable to high risk flooding during the rainy season each June and July.  The profound impacts that come with natural disasters – loss of homes, livelihoods and sometimes even lives - hit women and children the hardest. 

Women in Bangladesh are both socially and physically restricted by socially assigned, and unequal, gender roles. This inequity significantly increases their vulnerability and ability to respond to disasters. 

ActionAid Bangladesh has been supporting Bangladeshi women to devise an action plan to build women’s resilience by providing them with the knowledge and information needed to transform gender inequalities and become leaders in disaster preparedness within their communities. 

At the end of July this year, as the water level rose beneath their feet, women leaders’ took the reins in preparing their communities in risk reduction and resilience against the approaching flood. Women convened in courtyard meetings and informal information sessions to build awareness within the community.  Local residents were requested to gather dried food products — such as rice products, biscuits, etc. — and keep an emergency safety net fund on hand if possible.  Additionally, they were instructed to hand over valuables, important documents, and seeds to relatives whose homes occupied a higher altitude in the Union. 

The communities most vulnerable —children, persons with disabilities, the elderly, and pregnant women— were identified so that they can quickly be located and placed in safe zones during an emergency.  An emergency boat was arranged to be on standby for transferring these people from the Union to the mainland. 

Fortunately, the water level did not rise as much as expected this year and community members did not have to leave their homes during the flood.  Despite this, women leaders continued to actively check on their communities by sailing around the Union in small boats as most streets were submerged below the flood waters.

Proactive meetings were held in women’s groups to discuss the next steps for recovering from the flood.  While homes were still mainly intact, the majority of crops in the Union were destroyed. With farming the primary economic activity of the North Channel Union, many people experienced grave economic losses with the destruction of their crops.

So the women devised a plan of action to address these impacts, by preparing a list of affected farmers, ranked by the level of their economic loss. 

Using this list as evidence, women leaders submitted two applications for financial assistance from The Union Council, and The Department of Agriculture.  The Union Council responded favourably by providing 40 families with staple food products to overcome the shortfall that would impact on household food availability.  As yet, the Department of Agriculture has not provided any form of assistance, but this committed group of women are still relentlessly advocating for their assistance.

One of the key outcomes of the ‘women’s resilience’ project has been the development of women leaders to guide community members in preparedness and response to the risks associated with annual flooding. By establishing close connections with community members, conducting meetings with women’s groups, and seeking assistance from The Union Council and The Department of Agriculture, Bangladeshi women leaders are now more determined than ever to continue expanding their social mobility and breaking down the barriers to gender equality.

The women have advocated for their own market space to sell their crops and other livelihoods products, which both contributes to their resilience building and overall economic empowerment.

Throughout the project, women have been able to build up their resilience little by little each day. The level of social mobility for women within these communities has reached a point where women who previously never left their homes, are now some of the first to participate in relief initiatives following flooding in the North Channel Union.

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