Women in Bangladesh encounter a perfect storm in the face of climate change. The densely populated South Asian country is particularly vulnerable to extreme weather events because of its height above sea level. Meanwhile, women in Bangladesh suffer because of their lack of access to wealth and resources as well as their unequal gender status. An understanding of the roots of this crisis is essential to overt foreseeable disaster. Alerting world leaders is also necessary to avoid catastrophe for an already vulnerable group within Bangladesh.
The women of Bangladesh are among the first to suffer the impacts of climate change when they become displaced refugees. What makes women most at risk is not only due to the environmental damage inflicted by climate change but because of what will happen to them as they become climate refugees.
“I have no house now…I have moved here after suffering much. I could not afford to buy food. My husband left us…this kid was in my womb back then while he left us.” Aklima Begum’s story is not uncommon for women in Bangladesh. Women have less access to land and resources than their male counterparts. The burden of being a Bangladeshi refugee is amplified if you are a woman because of how much harder it is to earn money. Aklima was without a husband. This meant that she had to work and defend herself, which proves to be very difficult due to gender equality in Bangladesh.
Another problem we face is the reluctance of international leaders, and the countries they represent, to show humanitarian concern. Even neighbouring countries fall short in times of critical danger. Not only do we need to plan our response, but we also must take immediate preventative measures to avert future humanitarian crises. To implement this change, we must voice our concerns to global leaders so that they can prioritize crises such as these before it is too late.
It is understandable that the process to implement a preventative strategy will not happen overnight. Therefore, in the interim, we must request the creation of gender-sensitive strategies. Such strategies could readily respond to this resolvable problem within the wider environmental crisis. Studies have shown that there is a greater vulnerability for the lives of women after climate events; they encounter many hurdles that their male counterparts in the same crises do not face. These include cases where women cannot be admitted into shelters without permission from their husbands and a lack of toilets that can accommodate feminine hygiene needs. Also present for these women is the high threat of violence, minimal respect for privacy and failure to disclose important information concerning their situation.
The risk of trafficking is also very high for women when they become displaced. This is a big problem that global leaders need to recognize as a real effect of climate change.
Indian anti-trafficking charity Prerana has said that the number of women being trafficked from Bangladesh to Mumbai brothels is rising imminently. It may be argued that this is due to surrounding countries, such as India and Myanmar, closing their borders to Bangladeshi climate refugees. The lack of humanitarian concern from neighbouring countries is disheartening and evidences the diminishing level of concern countries have for their neighbours in times of crisis.
We must work to change this. Global leaders must implement legal obligations for countries to welcome displaced persons into their territory. This would be on the terms that they have to migrate due to the results of climate change. Climate change only exists because of the actions of humankind. Therefore, the problems present in Bangladesh are the problem of all countries.
We need to work to prevent these humanitarian crises by planning our reactions. Helena Kilkish, a Bangladeshi woman, calls world leaders for this change; “World leaders should think about us. They should limit their activities that cause climate change…and think about our benefits so we would be able to lead a good life in this world.”
We must act now.