The World Health Organization (WHO) has been warning that the humanitarian situation in flood-ravaged Pakistan is going to get worse. The flooding has affected over 35 million people in the country and at least half of them are girls and women whose health needs should also be a primary concern now. In most of the affected areas flood waters have damaged nearly 1,500 health centres of which around 500 were only in Sindh. These health centres catered to the needs of children and mothers who solely depended on them in the absence of any big hospitals nearby. The WHO and other organizations have set up hundreds of camps and have distributed thousands of rapid test kits for acute watery diarrhea, chikungunya, dengue, hepatitis, and malaria. But unfortunately not many are paying attention to women-specific ailments and diseases. Since most of the women and girl children in rural areas are suffering from malnutrition, they are more susceptible to bacterial and viral infections including Covid-19, measles, and typhoid. For women the situation may get worse with each passing day as it is still hard to get to areas hit hard by the floods.
There is an immediate need to scale up women-specific support by mounting an entirely targeted operation. It should aim to focus on menstrual hygiene kits and providing relief to hundreds of thousands of pregnant women. Most of the flights with relief goods are bringing items such as kitchen sets, mats, and tents; there is hardly any mention of menstrual and other hygiene-related products for women. There are many challenges in the way of reaching women of all ages in flood-affected areas. There are thousands of families still marooned, many with pregnant women among them. It is good to note that some voluntary organizations on the ground have started focusing on women in this time of great difficulty for them. All relief and rehabilitation operations must take into account specific needs of women rather than duplicating efforts aimed at everyone. Rather than supplying multiple tents and kitchen items to the same families, it would be much better to aim certain efforts at women’s health and hygiene.
There are reports that many women will be in labour pains in the coming weeks. This calls for a greater degree of order and organization in the on-ground relief activities so that pregnant women are able to give birth in safety. Per some assessments, the most pressing need of these women is medical help and prenatal checkups with the provision of nutritional supplements. More than anything else, they need clean drinking water and food to survive. Relief workers and organizations must reach out to women and must also have female health workers with them. Temporary labour rooms and operation theatres at certain points are also necessary. The question of women somehow almost always gets lost when it comes to disaster relief. And when attempts are made to mainstream a more gendered look at disaster and tragedy, the outrage at such distinction is palpable. The fact is that so many of the stranded women affectees of the floods are in dire need of help and care, and pointing that out is neither playing the ‘woman card’ nor trivializing the overall effects of the floods.