Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Dec 31, 2004: a post on andamanicobar@yahoogroups.co.in; revisiting the tsunami of Dec 2004

Dec 31, 2004

Dear Friends,
This is the mail that Dr. Milind Bokil had sent yesterday, but did not come


Dr. Milind Bokil Dr. Neelam Gorhe
OCAA – DST , Pune (India) Stree Aadhar Kendra, Pune (India)

Practical Gender Needs

Human beings have certain bodily needs but women have specific body cycles, which affect their physiological response. During the rescue and relief phases when the physical and biological spheres are affected the bodily phenomena need to be taken into consideration. The practical gender needs have close bearings on these physiological aspects.

- During the rescue phase, women and children are given precedence over men. Their rescue and protection is given highest priority. This is a welcome civil feature. However, the same attitude is not maintained afterwards.
- During the relief phase, which lasts for about two to four weeks many women undergo menstrual cycles. The homeless women are extremely handicapped in this regard. The necessary sanitary clothing is not made available, as this need is not recognised as a part of relief items. It is found that most of the relief gatherers and providers are men and they do not understand this need. As this topic is a taboo in Indian society, it is
not expressed openly and remedial action is not attempted. The lack of sanitary clothing can pose serious health hazards.
- In the same phase, women face grave problems due to lack of toilets and bathing facilities. Although most of the Indian villages are without latrines and people are habituated to use open spaces, this need becomes acute during disasters as the conventional order and arrangements are broken. The sites of disasters are thronged by relief providers and spectators as a result of whom the necessary privacy is lost. In urban areas this is the predominant difficulty. Relief operations seldom start with construction of toilets and bathrooms. In most cases they are constructed last, as appendages to shelters.
- Relief items do not reflect the priorities and preferences of women. The usual relief items include blankets, plastic sheets, tarpaulins, buckets, metal and plastic cans, water containers and so on. However, the specific cooking equipment like stoves, small pots and vessels, spoons, plates, katoris, fry pans, etc. do not necessarily form the list of supplies. Stoves without kerosene are useless. Fuel wood is seldom supplied.
- Similarly, women’s needs and priorities are not attended to while providing clothing. Sarees are provided but not petticoats and readymade blouses. Sarees are of no use without these ancillaries. The need is also for under-garments, which are often not provided. The most notable deficiency is that the donors do not think about the cultural acceptability of clothing. Problems arise when supplies come from overseas. Similarly, the needs of young girls are not specifically catered to. Young girls need readymade dresses like salwar and kameez but they come in short supply.
- Relief operations also do not consider the needs of pregnant and newly delivered women as well as the post-operative cases. These women are most vulnerable to physical and psychological shocks, and hence, need to be cared for. They need special diet, medical care and hygienic environment which is difficult to obtain even in normal times.
- The medicines sent out to the disaster areas are not sorted and classified. As a result, a good deal of energy is wasted in identifying a correct medicine. Many times, irrelevant medicines are sent which compound the problem rather than solving it. Similarly time-barred and obsolete medicines are received. Medication on hypertension and diabetes is often wanting. These two ailments pose a big health hazard in any post-disaster situation. As these medicines need to be taken punctually, their absence can cause physiological and surgical emergency. Women, due to  their emotional nature, are prone to hysterics. Psychological counselling is required but at the same time anti-depressant, anti-hysteric drugs and sedatives need to be administered which are often in short supply. These drugs need to receive priority over tonics and vitamin tablets.
- Spectacles are the first items lost or broken during any disaster. Though it is difficult to provide customised lenses, most of the people above of forty require reading glasses, which can be provided on large scale. Here again, gender biases play a role as women are not encouraged to check up their eye-sights regularly or wear spectacles. Many of them have impaired vision and night blindness. The latter is the direct outcome of nutritional deficiency.
 - Another need that is urgent but goes unnoticed is footwear, which is the first casualty in any disaster. Relief supplies seldom contain footwear, as traditionally anything that is connected with leather is considered inauspicious. Although rubber and synthetic materials have long replaced leather, this stigma has not vanished. There are also differences in men and women’s types of footwear. Even when such supplies arrive (mostly from overseas) they are ill suited to local conditions. Leather boots, sports shoes or high heeled footwear are not useful. Slippers or sandals are most suitable and it is also possible to supply them in bulk. This is unisex footwear and does not cause any discrimination.
After the first phase of relief and before the onset of rehabilitation
phase, there ensues an interim phase which also entails certain gender
needs. These are as follows.

- During the interim phase, the affected families need basic amenities like shelter, sanitary arrangements, drinking water, electricity, transportation, and communication. Some of the amenities like sanitation and drinking water are transformed into specific gender needs. Traditionally, Indian villages are not adequately equipped with sanitary arrangements and, hence, this need is not fulfilled during the interim process. The critical issue is that of drinking water as fetching the water is considered to be a woman’s duty. The unavailability or inadequacy of clean, potable drinking water not only increases the work burden on women but also jeopardises their productive activities. This is also true of fuel. Relief items do not necessarily consist of wood or any other fuel. This need has to be fulfilled immediately if the affected families are to resume their normal life.
- Another practical need is employment. The employment needs in the post-disaster situation are critical as traditional means and sources are
destroyed. Most of the relief and rehabilitation activities, particularly those related to building and construction of infrastructure, are male centred and male-intensive. Women do not receive adequate employment in these activities. At the same time, specific employment generation programs for women are neither undertaken nor conceived.

Gender Constraints
In the rescue phase, when the most important thing is to save one’s life, gender constraints prove a handicap. Although, men and women have certain bodily differences, nature does not differentiate between the sexes as far as human abilities are concerned. The abilities or lack of abilities, to be precise, are a product of culture and, hence, could be appropriately analysed from the gender perspective.
- Although women are given a priority in the rescue process, they face considerable obstacles in rescuing themselves. This is because they are not trained in essential, life saving skills like swimming, tree-climbing, jumping, running, etc. The practice of gender discrimination prevents girls from acquiring these skills and this turns out to be a fatal handicap. The traditional Indian clothing (five-yard saree) also makes things difficult for them.
- The traditional practices of keeping women away from death and funeral related rituals prove a handicap in disaster situations. The tradition not only deprives women from attending the funeral rites but also creates difficulties in identifying the deceased.
- Another handicap is the low level of literacy among women and subsequent lack of exposure to outside world. The women get confounded after the disaster, especially when they are accommodated in relief camps outside their villages or taken to hospitals at far off places. They are at a loss after being discharged from the hospitals, as they cannot easily reach their homes. The lack of exposure to communication and transportation links creates these disadvantages.
- It is noticed that women withstand the disaster better than men due to
better tensile strength and higher levels of endurance. However, their malnourished status and nutritional deficiencies pose a handicap in post-disaster situations, especially in post-operative or convalescent stages and also in the wake of epidemics.
- Although, no discrimination is made in administering professional medical treatment, the injured or convalescing women do not get the mandatory rest or respite from domestic chores. They are not only expected to look after their homes but also care for the injured or hospitalised relatives.
- During the relief and rehabilitation phases, schools are reopened but it is observed that girl-students often drop out at this stage. Conventionally, the proportion of girls dropping out of schools is high, especially among poor, labouring classes. Their vulnerability increases manifold after the disasters.

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