Charter of Rights for Women in Disasters – Pakistan.
Sameena Nazir, Potohar Organization for Development Advocacy (PODA), Islamabad, Pakistan
Anis Haroon, National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW), Islamabad, Pakistan
Alice H. Shackelford, United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women (UN Women), New York, USA
Background document providing these lessons learned:
PODA, UN Women, NCSW, Charter of Rights for Women in Disaster Situations, 2010.
Potohar Organization for Development Advocacy (PODA), a Pakistani women’s rights NGO, organized a series of Advocacy and Action Strategy consultations throughout Pakistan during August to October 2010 in collaboration with the National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW) and the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women (UN Women), Pakistan, to highlight the critical issues that are raised by rural women activists working for flood relief in all parts of Pakistan. Each consultation brought together over 1000 participants including rural women leaders, women working directly with flood affected communities, representatives of human rights organizations, members of the civil society, lawyers, academia, writers, poets, humanitarians, government officials and United Nations and international organizations working for Flood Relief in Pakistan. The agenda in all consultations included testimonies and reports from the field, open discussions and strategizing for future policy and action priorities. The overarching purpose of these consultations was to amplify the voices, priority needs and recommendations of women in Pakistan.
As a result of these consultations, a ‘Charter of Rights for Women in Disaster Situations’ was developed, shared and presented at the 3rd National Conference on the International Day of Rural Women (held on the 15th October) in Islamabad, Pakistan. The overall aim was to integrate the contributions, challenges and priorities of rural women in all policies and actions for flood disaster mitigation. At this occasion, the Charter was signed by over 1500 conference participants including rural women, women farmers, women ministers, parliamentarians, government officials, teachers, nurses, lady health workers, lawyers, artists, writers, rural women leaders and some women journalists among others. The Charter was also presented to National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), the High Representative of the UN Secretary General in Pakistan, UN Women, leader of the Women Parliamentary Caucus and the media.
The Charter’s rationale and scope
The Charter underlines that as women and children are already in a position of disadvantage in the society, they are usually the worst affected by any disaster and their needs are generally not given priority in relief and recovery processes.
Therefore, measures must be taken to prevent gender-based discrimination and to ensure that women’s human rights are recognized and respected, that women have equal access to urgent services and are protected from all forms of violence.
Women’s gender specific needs and issues should be at the centre of all relief activities and should not be compromised in any situation. Women have the right to be protected from discrimination and exploitation at all times.
The draft Charter sets out a number of recommendations, including that families headed by women should be given priority of accommodation in camps; that issues of women’s safety, health and special needs must be given adequate attention; that milk and other food items for children should be made available; that urgent medical assistance should be provided, particularly to pregnant women; and that mechanisms should be set up to enable women to report gender-based violence and harassment.
Further, the Charter demands that women’s rights organizations and women affected by the disaster are included in all stages of planning and decision-making on rehabilitation and reconstruction processes, and that women will be ensured equal access to land and livelihoods. Girls should be facilitated to resume their education like boys.
Text of “Charter of Rights for Women in Disaster situations – Pakistan”
Realizing that there are four stages while responding to any natural disaster - Rescue, Emergency relief, Rehabilitation, and Reconstruction – in order to support women’s role in disaster mitigation and peace, their specific and stage related needs should be taken into account and addressed, through the following recommendations:
1. In the process of loss assessment and rehabilitation the Government of Pakistan and foreign aid organizations must consult women’s rights organizations and the affected women themselves.
2. At the district level a committee of representatives of the district administration, the NGOs and civil society organizations should be formed with 33% representation of women.
3. In emergency relief stage the families headed by women should be accommodated in camps on
a priority basis. They should be helped in registration and access to assistance.
4. During the relief work women’s safety, their gender-specific special needs, and privacy should be respected and facilitated.
5. Children’s food requirements are different from adults and pose special burdens on women therefore the urgent needs of children such as milk and appropriate nutritious food should be ensured so that the women in disaster situations can take care of their children and themselves.
6. Proper sanitation is essential for women’s health. Therefore sufficient number of mobile latrines and proper drainage system should be provided in camps to prevent spread of diseases.
7. Large water tanks, drums, water purification tablets should be provided in sufficient quantity.
8. Lady Health Workers and Traditional Birth Attendents should be provided in mobile health units for care of sick and pregnant women. Lady doctors should also be arranged as needed..
9. Protection of women and girls should be planned and complaint mechanisms should be provided in camps and host communities to ensure compliance of laws against sexual harassment and ending violence against women as such crimes increase in disaster situations.
10. Disaster may cause severe mental and psychological stress among women therefore they should be provided special counseling and access and facilitation for mental health care.
11. Women need their National Computerized Identity Cards (CNICs) to avail relief and rehabilitation services and compensation for damages therefore women who do not have or have lost their CNICs should be provided assistance on urgent and priority basis.
12. Legal aid and awareness of legal rights should be made available to women and girls.
13. Most men and women displaced due to floods are from the lower and deprived strata of the society. A large number of women among them are farm labourers. Their sustainable rehabilitation is not possible unless they are given ownership of lands for their own cultivation.
14. Women should be given ownership rights of lands and cattle. A number of models can be considered in this regard. For example, cooperative farming or distribution of 2 acres of land and cattle to each household Men and women in a family can be given joint ownership after mutual consultation.
15. Women who are engaged in home based industry face huge losses in natural disasters and since home-based industrial workers are not recognized as workers in our country their losses are not compensated. There is a need to form a policy for protection of such workers (women artisans) and also given compensation for their losses on an immediate basis. They should be provided their traditional handicrafts materials (cloth, thread, needles and other material) so that they can continue their work.
16. The education department and health department should immediately appoint teachers and lady health visitors in camps so that education and health problems could be solved.
17. Media should highlight the problems of women on a priority basis. Sensationalism should be avoided and positive activities should be highlighted.
18. It should be ensured that education of all students especially girls and children with special needs is not affected. Affected children/students should be given scholarships and grants. They should be provided uniforms, books and bags.
19. Foreign donors should not give aid in loans; rather it should be given in the shape of grants and donations. In view of the present disaster and conditions it is the responsibility of donor agencies that they write off their loans.
20. In 2010 Flood in Pakistan it has become very obvious that some people own large landholdings while the majority of the rural population is landless farm workers and agricultural labourers who do not have a source of livelihood of their own. So it is being felt that to remain safe in any future disasters this poor class should be made financially strong. Therefore we demand that land reforms process should be initiated along with the rehabilitation work. Land should be distributed among the flood victims. This will provide sustainable rehabilitation and at the same time the problems of large land holding will be eradicated.
The way ahead
The Charter was endorsed by over 1000 women from all parts of Pakistan during regional consultations and later by over 1500 women at the 15th October Conference on Rural Women Day in Islamabad. The Charter has been presented to many stakeholders in Pakistan and it is available for use by all those interested. This Charter was also shared with women’s groups in Haiti as a document that can be adapted and used in similar situations in other parts of the world to promote and protect women’s human rights during times of emergency and disasters.
Advocacy activities related to this Charter are on-going. The Charter is still open for signatures. Supporters from all parts of the world are invited to send feedback/suggestions. To send your feedback or to sign-on to the Charter, please click here.
For more information or any questions please contact Ms. Sameena Nazir, Executive Director, PODA, firstname.lastname@example.org (www.poda.org.pk).