Over the last 15 years India has been struck with numerous natural disasters that have killed thousands and leaving many more men, women, and children in despair. The country is at high risk for natural disasters and is exposed to floods, droughts, cyclones, earthquakes, and landslides. From urban cities to rural villages, communities are ripped apart and families struggle to survive in the aftermath. Even more so are women and girls at an even higher risk of displacement and exploitation than their male counterparts. As NGO staff, social workers, health practitioners, and policy makers our understanding of the implications between gender and natural disasters is critical to effective disaster management that reduce the vulnerability of women and girls.
Rajasthan is one of the most drought-affected states in the country. In 2002, the entire state experienced a severe drought which caused a shortage in food, water, employment, and farming. Because of the drought crops are destroyed, cattle die, and a family’s source of income is depleted. Families are unable to provide a steady diet for their children and so they are at risk of being malnourished. A study conducted by the Desert Medicine Research Center in Jodhpur revealed that growth stunting, a cause of malnutrition, was significantly higher for girls ages 0-5 than for boys. Due to heavily instilled gender roles and expectations in India women and girls often have less access to food and water during times of natural disaster and occurrences. This unequal distribution can further implicate the health risks that women and girls face.
Maternal health is yet another aspect as to the depths of widespread neglect that women face in rural areas of Rajasthan. High pregnancy rates, high miscarriage rates, premature infant death, high risk of mortality and morbidity during labor. This is mainly in part to the lack of adequate health services, lack of control over fertility, sexual reproduction education, inadequate nutrition, and inadequate sanitation. Women are not always allowed to leave the home at any given time and must have permission by their husband. This can significantly impact the health of a woman and her child during pregnancy if she is unable to seek medical attention. The number of doctors in rural areas of India is also extremely low compared to that of the urban areas which results in poor medical facilities and infrastructure. This can all be extremely difficult for a mother during times of natural disaster such as a drought since a she may not be able to access medical attention due to lack of doctors, facilities, and equipment.
How You Can Help
As a global community who are fighting for women and girls equality, access to resources and knowledge, and inclusion in decision-making, we need to continue focusing on how women play positive roles in their community, society, and family. Education for Equality International has been working in the desert regions of Rajasthan and we understand that education for women and girls as it relates to their health and sexual reproduction is a great concern. In India, and like anywhere else in the world, women and girls have the ability to voice their needs in order to make decisions and lead a healthy life. Stay informed of these issues and educate others!