Women’s Safety in Humanitarian Emergency
In humanitarian emergencies, such as war, flood, conflicts, earthquake, fire, famine, etc. law, order, system, and everything we count on to support us and protect us are destroyed. We expect people to stand up, stick together and help in these conditions, but it doesn’t happen. In fact, at those times, sexual violence increases. It is important that women are empowered with the right support, knowledge, and tools to take care of their safety during such assaults and violence.
What Happens to Women Safety in Emergencies?
A sensitive issue like the safety of women takes an altogether new dimension when there is an emergency. Same is the case during social unrest, conflicts, riots, violence or wars. These are the most difficult times faced by human beings and they can be especially traumatic for women. These disasters and conflicts and the emergency caused by them only makes the problem of women’s safety worse and requires more effective measures to deal with them.
These unfortunate events push women into a situation where they find themselves utter helpless. They are forced to survive in an environment, such as a camp or shelter, which is unfamiliar and insecure. They must deal with all kinds of strangers, take up completely new roles and face all forms of treatments and discriminations as women. All this makes them extremely vulnerable to gender-based violence (GBV) including sexual assaults, intimate partner abuse, child marriage, gender mutilation, etc.
During emergencies such as these, often the normal means of communication such as telephone lines, mobile networks or internet connections are not available to ask for help and find support. This adds to the dilemma of women as they are left with no other choice but to depend on the strangers they are surrounded by. This puts them in an extremely susceptible situation where they are constantly under stress that someone might take advantage of their condition under the guise of helping them. They don’t know whom to trust and look for support. This can lead to an emotional breakdown further worsening their condition.
Also, during emergencies, the basic facilities such as toilets and sanitary can become hard to obtain and can be a cause of immense stress for women. Places like water spots, food ration distribution area, and toilets are often crowded and dominated by men and boys. These places can become problematic for women as they cannot be avoided. Even most public places are often dominated by men during such times. This makes it difficult for women and girls to find a place where they can feel safe and where they can voice their concerns and grievances.
WHAT CAN BE DONE FOR WOMEN DURING EMERGENCIES?
Any government or system must take the following initiatives to ensure that women get adequate support and safety during such trying times.
1. Listen to their voice: Women and girls should be at the center of any emergency support programs designed for them.
2. Light their way: All the pathways, shelters, toilets, etc. should be provided with ample lights to reduce the possibility of sexual harassment or assault.
3. Provide more secure shelters: Shelters and camps built for survivors during emergencies are often not safe and lack privacy. They have thin walls and are often too close to the neighboring tents. It is important that these shelters be constructed with the privacy and security of women in mind.
4. Bring emergency services to them: Often women and girls like married adolescents, adolescent mothers, disabled women, etc. are not able to reach for emergency service. For these women, emergency services need to be mobile and brought to them when needed.
5. Train front line health workers: It is vital to train the front line health workers so that they can offer better support to the survivors of gender-based violence. They should be trained in important skills such as survivor-centered communication and clinical management of rape.
6. Provide locked toilets: Toilets and latrines can be unsafe places for women and girls during emergencies. It is, therefore, important that all such places have locks. Also, these facilities should be separate for males and females.
7. Supply hygiene kits: Hygiene kits, with menstrual health products, soap, whistles, and torches should be provided to women and girls so that they can manage their periods and feel safe so that they can participate in school and other activities.
8. Offer age-appropriate clinical services: It is important that clinical care for sexual assault, HIV and STD testing, and other health services be accessible and adolescent-friendly.
9. Educate them in life-skills: Life skills training can help women and adolescent become better and creative thinkers, nurture leadership qualities, and become better citizens. It also helps them gain skills that can reduce their risk of gender-based violence.
10. Emergency cash for the needy: It is important to provide emergency money to those women and girls whose life is in danger so that they can have access to immediate shelter and subsistence.
Not only will this save them from a lot of physical and emotional stress but will also help them come out of the disastrous situation more quickly and rebuild their lives for a better future.
Well, the most important are the people who implement these are the front-line workers in healthcare, food distribution, and camp management. They should be morally and personally responsible for the women safety so that they can offer better support to the survivors of gender-based violence. They should be trained in important skills such as survivor-centered communication and clinical management of rape.
Small steps can go a long way in making them feel safe and supported. Understanding their plight and offering them an empathetic ear is the first step. They should also be offered special rights and priorities in certain conditions so that they don’t need to hustle with strangers even for basic facilities.
Emergencies are the ultimate acid tests of our preparedness to face life’s challenges. It is important to be well-equipped beforehand so that they can be met with courage and confidence. Be it a bigger emergency like the ones mentioned above or a more day-to-day emergency situation where a woman is subjected to sexual harassment and violence, when you have the right know-how and have the right safety tools at your disposals, you can safely pull yourself out of the situation and become a stronger and more courageous person.
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