If the rapidly rising flood waters weren’t alarming enough, 15-year old Rima* found herself dealing with another ‘crisis’: her periods. In a hurry to save herself from drowning, there was no time to grab anything, least of all sanitary pads or even a clean, dry piece of cloth.
When she finally reached the relief camp - a crowded community centre, a couple of kilometres from her village Hatbor in Assam’s Nagaon district, another ordeal awaited her.
There were neither any separate toilets for women nor any menstrual hygiene management facilities. Rima had no choice but to bleed into her skirt for hours, until her aunt somehow found a piece of cloth in the camp.
When I first spoke to Rima several months later after her nightmarish experience, she was able to recall every detail and the helplessness she had felt as a woman. In the absence of basic privacy in the common toilets, Rima and many teenaged girls were harassed by men in the camps during their stay.
No woman should have to suffer such indignities and humiliations, especially during a humanitarian crisis. Join me in asking the Government of Assam to build 50 women-friendly flood shelters in the 10 most flood-prone districts in the state for the safety and dignity of our women. Sign my petition.
I want these flood shelters to have these basic facilities:
- Gender-segregated toilets and bathing facilities with provision of menstrual hygiene products. I want the government to officially recognise the importance of menstrual health during disasters and put pads in the list of relief items with immediate effect.
- Special provisions for lactating mothers and pregnant women
- Visits by social welfare department officials to ensure safety of women and girls in the flood shelters.
There are many reasons why I believe this is entirely achievable. One, floods are quite predictable in Assam. Second, disaster hits every year and usually in the same areas. Third, most often the same schools and community centres are turned into flood shelters. This means the Assam government can use the predictability of the situation to its advantage by being better prepared - equipping the existing structures and building new ones to provide basic safety, hygiene and dignity to women who are already battling a disaster.
Assam Disaster Management Manual 2015 has guidelines for a gender-sensitive approach, but Annual Joint Needs Assessment reports reveal a lack of concrete action on ground.
There is another reason why I believe that the Assam government can be persuaded to work on this issue. It had recently announced it would give one tola of gold to would-be brides. Such a government that cares for the marriage of women, would also care for the condition of lakhs of women who face floods every year. I believe that as citizens we can convince the state government to set an example by building these model women-friendly flood shelters. Sign my petition. We may not be able to stop the floods from striking Assam, but the least we can do is ensure dignity during disaster for all.
*Name changed for privacy
Photo credit: Rudrani Ghosh Photography for Sikun Relief Foundation