Bangladesh is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change in the world, likely to suffer more in the future than any other country in South Asia. While climate change affects all genders, girls and women face increased vulnerability to the effects of climate change, as their reproductive health is also affected by poor facilities and access to other infrastructure.
The geographical location of Bangladesh shows that floods, droughts and cyclones are common challenges that the country faces periodically every year. The UN has found Bangladesh to be among the top five countries most at risk in Asia and the Pacific according to the 2021 Regional Focus Model (RFM) on Disaster Vulnerability. All these impacts of climate change not only affect the economic and social aspects of Bangladesh but also make women and children severely vulnerable in terms of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR).
The fact is that environmental crises like drought, heavy rains, floods, extreme heat, increased salinity and other climate-related phenomena can increase the risk of poor maternal and neonatal health, increased of child marriage and gender-based violence in Bangladesh. Women and children become the most vulnerable during and after disasters due to the impacts of climate change. Women are particularly vulnerable here due to lack of access or facilities to medical care, services, sexual and reproductive health (SRHR) rights services, sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services from adolescents and services related to motherhood and pregnancy. They are also deprived of security, privacy, safety and scarcity of hygiene products such as sanitary napkins and, above all, deprived of the dignity of human life during the time of crisis.
It is crucial to identify and establish the link between climate change and SRHR in the context of Bangladesh, given the urgent need to understand and establish how information and messages related to gender and SRHR could have a positive impact on the large number of women and girls. living at risk of climate vulnerability in Bangladesh.
Gender equality, sexual and reproductive health and rights and climate change issues are inextricably linked. Access to safe and dignified menstruation is a basic need for women and girls. A growing evidence base from this country shows that many girls are unable to manage their menstrual health (MH) and associated hygiene with ease and dignity. These girls and women are unable to practice good menstrual health and hygiene at home, school, work, or other public places, due to a combination of discriminatory social environments, inaccurate information, poor installations and a limited choice of absorbent materials. This deprivation is even more acute for girls and women in emergencies, especially during any type of natural disaster. When a climate-related disaster strikes, women and girls are exposed to vulnerabilities that put them at increased risk for women’s health issues, such as maintaining SRHR.
Maintaining menstrual hygiene is not easy in Bangladesh, where people often don’t even say her name due to the stigma and taboo associated with it. Menstrual myths have a long history in a country like Bangladesh, but small changes are afoot to help break the taboo and raise awareness of the need for hygiene for girls and women.
Coastal regions are known as climate change hotspots in Bangladesh where majority of girls and women still do not practice good menstrual hygiene during their period. Such unhygienic practices can cause serious health problems and even lead to death. While menstrual health is still taboo in Bangladesh, very few people think of helping women by providing them with sanitary pads during their periods and this is beyond expectation in an area prone to natural disasters.
To procure appropriate menstrual hygiene materials for women and girls in development and emergency settings, it is important to understand the potential benefits and health benefits of these hygiene products in different settings. RHM-specific education will teach and develop the skills of young girls and women to better respond to their rights and build awareness and confidence.
During any natural disaster related to climate change, health services, especially sexual and reproductive health services, are often limited and sometimes unavailable despite being much needed medical support. Additionally, the ability of women and girls to manage their periods with dignity is impaired when there is a lack of clean water and menstrual products.
For marginalized and vulnerable groups of people, as well as people with disabilities, the impact of climate change exacerbates their existing challenges and vulnerabilities. When women are unable to achieve their SRHR, they cannot live up to their full potential, therefore, they are not interested in pursuing education and improving their livelihoods. Existing barriers are particularly high for girls and women and those who experience multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination and oppression, such as those disadvantaged or affected by climate change or climate refugees.
On the other hand, when people, especially women, have achieved their SRHR, their ability to engage in climate change adaptation actions would be greater. They can make decisions to better manage risk, pursue new livelihood strategies, and raise their voices for awareness and collective action. This enables them to be more resilient to the impacts of climate change and to actively contribute to climate solutions.
Every government needs to understand what lies ahead in terms of the future. We hope that our government will continue to support specific initiatives for women, particularly encouraging small and medium enterprises across the country to promote accessible and affordable hygiene products for women and girls in rural and difficult areas. of access to the country, especially in the disaster-prone area.
He also urged all manufacturers of sanitary napkins to immediately implement this tax exemption on prices, so that women and girls can benefit from it. To ensure healthier communities and protect the well-being of all, including women and girls, coping and resilience strategies must be an integral part of the national health plan, and knowledge and research contributions decision-makers are absolutely necessary.
Nazneen Khan, PhD, works as a researcher at ICCCAD. It can be attached to n[email protected]