An estimated 73,000 flood-hit women will give birth next month and it will be a huge challenge to provide safe and secure birth place to them.
Dr Nuzhat Faruqui, who has received Tamgha-e-Imtiaz for providing vital healthcare and relief services during natural disasters, said this on Saturday while speaking to a webinar titled ‘Women’s Health in Flooded Areas: How better and sensitized decisions can be made to protect women?’ hosted by The Citizenry in collaboration with Times of Karachi.
She was against the notion that women could not take part in relief operations or rescue works. “I have done that,” she said, adding that the NGOs need to be cognisant of the fact that it was necessary to take female rescuers and volunteers to reach out to more and more women for help.
During the 2010 floods, she along with her NGO ULPHAT Welfare Organisation spent five months in temporary camps. Dr Nuzhat explained how her NGO with the Pakistan Navy was engaged in a rescue operation during recent floods and found a woman in labour and they had no option but to have her through delivery. She pointed out how menstruation was a grave issue even during pregnancy and in normal checklists of relief works, there was no mention of sanitary pads.
Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working in flood-affected areas should add sanitary pads in their ration bags, she stressed. The moderator of the webinar, journalist Hunain Ameen, pointed out that 35 million people were directly affected by the floods and as per the latest estimates, almost half of the country was under water. Even in such a calamitous scenario, he said, mensuration and hygiene for women were considered taboo topics.
The needs of both the genders in flood-hit areas were poles apart, said journalist Sidra Dar while responding to Ameen’s question regarding how rescue and relief works were generally carried out by men only and how they impacted women.
Men mostly demanded shelter, food and water, whereas, women were in search of toilets, she said. The women of the flood-hit areas she visited, did not eat or drink because of the fear of nature’s call.
“We have a culture of Parda throughout the country,” she said. “If a woman from such a background is sitting at the corner of a street with other men, where will they go if nature calls?”
She shared how just before the sunset in flood-hit areas or at makeshift tents, women carried their children or form a group of their gender and found a convenient place to respond to the call of nature. “Imagine they will have to wait entire day for this,” she said, adding that there were many pregnant women among the flood victims and during pregnancy the urge to urinate was much more.
Sharing experiences of her conversations with the flood-affected women, Sidra said how one of the flood-hit mothers shared how her daughters were going through periods and she was tearing apart their spared clothes for that.
Dr Nuzhat agreed and added that if the flood-hit women did not drink water and use hygienic products during periods, the chances of urinary tract infection (UTI) would increase manifold among them.
Sidra said that if female reporters, doctors and journalists could go to such areas, female volunteers should also go there as female flood victims were more comfortable talking to females volunteers.
University of Punjab student Bushra Mahnoor along with Bahauddin Zakariya University student Anum Khalid have been running a campaign Mahwari Justice to ensure menstrual hygine for the flood victims.
Speaking at the webinar, Mahnoor said that UTI was very common among women. In the 2010 floods, she recalled how a huge percentage of female flood affectees were infected with UTI so much so that beds ran short in hospitals. Thinking of this, they decided to work on sanitary relief and decided to launch ‘Mahwaari justice’.
They received negative feedback from everywhere and no relief organisation supported them. “We were asked if we were sending pads to women, would we send shaving creams to men as well,” she said, adding that they had reached out to 12,000 flood-affected females.
When they reached out to the corporate sector for help, she said no company had donated more than 200 pads to them. A few of the companies were greedy and were not even ready to supply pads at cheaper rates.
Mahnoor shared she found out that four women of a family of the flood-hit areas of Balochistan were using one piece of cloth for their periods. “The girl called me and said if we tore apart our dupatta (scarf), how we would cover ourselves.”
Speaking on questions such as how flood-affected women would learn to use pads, she said women are adaptable and they could learn to use pads. Narrating her own story, Mahnoor shared how she came from a middle class Attock family, and she and her five sisters could not afford sanitary pads and had to use clothes and had experienced fungal infections and UTI.
Dr Nuzhat said that other means could be used if pads were not available – provided they were hygienic. The exposure duration of pads or clothes also mattered. If it is changed in two to three hours or washed properly, she said, it would be considered okay.
At relief camps, she said, they could teach personal hygiene and women from rural areas were very quick learners. Speaking on the critics of menstrual pads, Sidra said even a tetrapack milk went in ration bags and flood-affected women had not consumed it ever. “Should we send a buffalo to their aid then?” she asked sarcastically.