#StoryOfResistance — Stepping up for women and girls during the flood crisis in Pakistan
Interview with Fouzia Yasmin, Senior Manager at Rozan
Catastrophic flooding in Pakistan that began in mid-2022 has killed over 1,500 people, displaced nearly 8 million, and left countless numbers in areas still submerged and lacking shelter, food, clean water and medicine.
With support from the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women (UN Trust Fund), the non-profit mental health organization Rozan has been implementing a project in Hyderabad and Sukkur districts to support women survivors of domestic violence when they leave temporary safe shelters. Under this project since 2019, Rozan was able to reach 753 individuals through their support and awareness-raising activities. Amid this crisis, Rozan quickly adapted its project activities to respond to the emerging needs of women and girls beyond their mandate.
We talked with Fouzia Yasmin, Senior Manager at Rozan, about how the natural disaster put women and girls at increased risk of violence and about the essential role of civil society organizations in times of crisis.
How have women and girls been impacted by the flood?
The destruction of infrastructure and the lack of global resources have made it extremely difficult for government services and community health workers to reach far-flung areas, and the floods have jeopardized medical care systems and community support. This means that it has been extremely difficult for community-based organizations, who understand local situations and challenges, to address the specific needs of women and girls, including pregnant women who need particular and regular care (for instance, transport to hospital for check-ups, clean water and sanitation for the mother and child).
In this context, women’s and girls’ well-being and sexual and reproductive health and rights are threatened. For instance, women and girls in the affected areas lack sanitary napkins. However, in Pakistan, it is not an acceptable norm for girls to talk about menstruation, which adds another barrier to their access to specific care and support.
Have the risks of violence against women and girls increased?
Tensions and fear of floods, loss of economic opportunity and an unpredictable future are driving violence against women and girls, especially domestic violence by intimate partners and other male family members.
There have also been incidents when intimate partner violence against women has been caused because of the support women have received from women’s rights organizations triggering heightened tension, especially when the support is in the form of cash. Similarly, several cases of harassment and sexual violence have been reported, especially during distribution of food and other items.
Also, because many of the families are displaced, young girls are often separated from their parents and guardians, which increases their risk of being exploited.
Now, as we enter a reconstruction phase, we have observed that families living in camps are inclined to resort to harmful traditional practices such as to sell or marry off their daughters in exchange for money to buy food for the rest of the family.
How has your organization responded to the crisis?
Our team conducted a basic assessment to understand the immediate needs of the affected communities, especially their needs for food, shelter and medical supplies.
This informed our development of a flood relief plan during which we provided a first round of bags containing food, medical supplies and dignity kits to communities settling in camps and temporary shelters.
Given that every disaster impacts on the psychosocial health of communities, our team of psychologists is building an action plan to address issues of stress and shock. We are providing immediate emotional and psychosocial support to the communities.
In the long-term, we aim to train service providers on psychosocial support services and identify the individuals with serious mental and emotional support needs and orient them towards available services.
We will also sensitize community members to identify and address the risks of gender-based violence, with a focus on violence against children prevention.
How could donors and partners better support grassroots organizations like yours during crises?
There is a strong need to fund the implementation of a holistic approach that addresses both immediate needs such as food and shelter, and longer term needs like psychosocial care, the latter of which is often overlooked, especially in times of crisis.
We believe that we need interconnected support mechanisms where funding partners, grassroots organizations, service departments and communities can connect and support each other.
We also believe that relief support programmes need to be designed to address the vulnerabilities of women and girls during disasters to reduce the risks of violence.
#StoryOfResistance is an editorial series during the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence 2022 of the UN Trust Fund. The series features the important, lifeline work of women’s rights organizations in ending violence against women and girls, in the context of overlapping crises and rising pushbacks from anti-rights and anti-feminist movements.