2023, and a safe world in a woman's eyes remains nonexistent. The word 'safe' carries so much power, yet women have never felt so powerless in uncertain times. A familiar feeling such as; having decreased access to health care, final picks at food, and no human rights is a reality women face worldwide. Climate change expands this reality, and reports have found some shocking discoveries.
Considering their biological and social factors, recent studies have shown five primary vulnerable areas among women.
Food and Water
A mass of uncertainty around accessing safe food weighs down on communities worldwide, and women are left starving and helpless. Not only does the dream of bearing healthy families dissipate, but living the life they longed for is no more.
Last year, Mongabay released an article detailing the consequences rising sea levels have on the land and clean water sources, and areas like the villages of Satkhira are being hit hard by these events. The shortage of clean water means women struggle to carry out daily responsibilities for their families and home. Finding drinking water alone is becoming increasingly difficult due to droughts, floods, and water pollution, exposing women and children more to waterborne diseases because of their biology. Deforestation poses a problem for women to collect firewood and fodder for their homes, resulting in strenuous and depleting walking conditions.
Sexual and Reproductive Health
As a result of Climate change, women’s sexual and reproductive health is at risk. Environmental impacts are destroying healthcare facilities and women’s access to healthy and safe menstrual care, with support for their finances and rights being next to none.
Because women are more dependent on fishing in certain areas, they spend an extended time waist-deep in unsafe waters; as a result, they are more susceptible to infections.
Nihar Ranjan Raptan, director of NGO Goranbose Gram Bikash Kendrea (GGBK) has stated that ‘Irregular menstrual cycles, vaginal infections, recurring UTI and miscarriages are common amongst the women in the Sundarbans’.
Women and girls in villages like Satkhira use rags when menstruating, and the only means of cleaning their rags is using dirty salt water. A disturbing discovery is that in addition to infections and diseases, these women and girls take contraception pills to stop their menstrual cycles. This method, however, carries risks of long-term health issues, including blood clots and breast cancer.
ASHA worker Revati Mondal has worked in the Sundarbans’ Goran Bose Villages for over twenty years: “I visit about 25 homes every day and most of these homes have women who have one or the other problems related to menstruation. - The women meet their day-to-day expenses selling prawns and fish they catch in the river for which they have to remain in waist-deep water for four-six hours per day which is the main cause of the health hazards they are facing.”
“In so many cases, these women shy away from telling their problems to doctors. They come to even me only when it turns severe and requires much more intensive treatment. Some women have also reported miscarriages due to repeated infections”.
Although these circumstances are dark, some light shines through for women in Satkhira! A campaign has been launched by a local sanitary pad company, helping build freshwater tanks and providing women and girls with training on menstrual hygiene.
Stress, malnutrition, and burnout. These factors mean females are at greater risk of contracting infectious diseases, predominantly seen during the COVID-19 pandemic; excessive workload and family duties, underpayments and uncertainty around employment, and a reduced support system. Additionally, the ever-changing climate means certain mosquito-borne illnesses, such as malaria and Zika virus, and tick-borne diseases are more likely to spread over larger areas.
Increasing exposure to diseases stated above poses risks to pregnancies, including abnormalities. Not only are females subject to these illnesses, but rising temperatures, pollution, malnutrition, and weather negatively contribute to pregnancies resulting in outcomes such as stillbirths, defects, and eclampsia.
Girls and women make up over half of those fleeing their homes, escaping the growing number of environmental disasters. Yet when displaced and migrated due to climate change, women and girls become puppets, made mute with limited control over decisions and access to help.
As I read the material helping me write this, I feel a lump in my throat. Wishing these facts untrue: women are deemed easier targets within the displaced and unsettled groups for tasks such as domestic organ removal and prostitution. Not only are females subdued to excess violence because of their gender, but they also continue to be more vulnerable to other unfathomable dangers.
“With heightened threats from climate change, it is prudent to anticipate increases in violence against women and girls and proactively find solutions”.
Will women ever feel safe?