South Asia

Pakistan floods: 'Cultural shock' for women in camps

Camp in the Layyah district, Pakistan. Photo: Plan International
Image caption Some women have no change of clothes

Three weeks after Pakistan's worst natural disaster began, many people are living in camps all around the country.

Shmyalla Jawad, who is the gender advisor for the Plan International organisation in Pakistan, visited some of these camps in the Layyah district in Southern Punjab.

She found out that apart from the dire conditions in the camp, women and girls are also facing a cultural challenge.

Shmyalla's experiences

Visiting these camps was a heart wrenching experience. I was appalled to see the conditions in which these people are living.

But what emerged for me to be the most worrying thing was how women and young girls are being affected by this. They are always the worst hit in these situations.

Health and sanitation is a big issue. One camp set up in a government building had no bathing facility.

Whereas the men and young children can take baths outside on the school lawn, women don't have that option.

Many people didn't have a chance to pick up their belongings when the floods hit their village so they have no change of clothes.

Many are wearing what they left home in and without being able to wash and women's hygiene in particular has deteriorated.

The situation is even worse for menstruating and pregnant women.

The camps are also culturally shocking for women and girls. Many have never been around a man who isn't a member of their family.

Now they are amongst hundreds of men who are complete strangers.

In some sectors of Pakistan society, apart from the religious notions of covering up and not mingling with males outside one's family, women are considered to be the custodians of male and family honour.

This notion of honour is linked with women's sexual behaviour so their sexuality is considered to be a potential threat to the honour of family. Therefore, the systems of sex segregation known as purdah are used by the society to protect the honour of the family.

But in the camps there are no provisions for purdah. Young boys and girls have to sleep in the same room, at times next to each other, most mothers and families do not feel it's safe for their daughters, especially in the current circumstances.

But even then, I still have hope, provided that relief is well targeted.

Funds and relief items have started coming in, but we still have a long way to go. We need to ensure that relief is distributed effectively, efficiently and without unnecessary time delays.

The people affected by the flood are also trying their best to brave out this bad patch in their lives.

Their major concern is of how to help their children continue with their education; how to rebuild their lives, their houses and their communities once they go back.

I believe that we should do anything that we can to support them.

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