Earthquake rehabilitation The gender perspective
In Pakistan, the October 8 earthquake left widespread destruction in the AJK and eastern NWFP. Many people especially women and children were killed, thousands were handicapped and millions became homeless. It hit hard the already fragile economy of the area with the social service delivery and communication infrastructure being badly affected. Vulnerable groups, mainly women and children living in inaccessible mountain areas with low levels of income and service provision, bore the brunt of the earthquake.
IUCN Pakistan took an initiative to probe through interviews and observations, into the issues faced by women and children. The objective of this study was to get deeper understanding of the issues faced by women and children in the earthquake affected areas so that the organisation’s future strategies are informed and sensitive to their needs.
After the earthquake millions of people became homeless. In the cultural context of Pakistan and in the earthquake area, it is only the home where women, young girls and children are considered to be safe and secure. The earthquake left them without home and shelter. Although the government and other organisations responded by providing tent villages for these people, many families and women felt highly insecure in moving away from their ancestral homes and the familiar environment in which they have spent all their. They were very reluctant to move to the camps.
In Battagram one woman living near her destroyed home told, “Tents are something we feel very insecure about, we feel like we are uprooted, we feel like we are without defence, the tent cloth can be ripped through easily, they cannot be locked. I am referring to our young women and girls, particularly during the night. They tell us to move to tent camps for security, what do they mean by security? Also who will ensure that someone else will not take over our houses? They might allocate these to some other people assuming we have all died.”
Scarcity of water was the most common problem seen in all earthquake-affected areas. Everywhere people were demanding water for drinking, bathing and other purposes. The unhygienic water is causing many epidemics and diseases.
One of our respondents in Battagram, village Bata Mori living near their damaged house told, “We have a lot of problems while getting water, it is very insecure to go long distances. There are so many strangers roaming around.”
Almost all the respondents, both women and children, said their workload had greatly increased. Men often go to their destroyed houses in order to look after their animals and to protect the remaining assets. The absence or death of male members of the family means that women are left to cope alone in difficult circumstances. Small children also share this pressure. In the aftermath of the earthquake, there is an urgent need to gather together free roaming animals and to provide shelter and food for the winter season.
Besides the loss of employment, it was observed that women have also lost confidence. They lack the confidence to rebuild that took years evolving. The influx of relief aid has also contributed to their increased dependence – they wait for the organisations that come and make promises.
It was observed that there was a great coming together of international and national help and food, blankets, shelter and medicine were being provided. However, it was also observed that there were some shortcomings in the suitability of goods and in their distribution. There are also some serious problems in addressing the needs of women and children.