Assam, a north-eastern state of India has been affected by heavy monsoon floods. More than two million people were impacted, with thousands of villages being submerged, thousands of residents fleeing their homes and seeking temporary shelter in relief camps, and homes, roads and buildings being deluged. Although experiencing heavy monsoons is common for the region, this year, the society had already been devastated by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Due to measures adopted to curtail the spread of COVID-19, particularly social distancing, Assam residents were unable to prepare for the floods by stockpiling food and emergency supplies for example, or by ensuring shelter and sanitation products for women. The monsoon thus exacerbated an already vulnerable socio-economic position of Assam residents. Health care services that were already overwhelmed by the rapid spread of the pandemic, became even more burdened with the spread of water-borne diseases.
Inevitably, this has negative implications on the most vulnerable, including women who are usually the first to be rescued, especially if pregnant of breastfeeding, and other marginalized groups. Indeed, throughout and in the aftermath of natural disasters, women and girls are often the most affected for multiple reasons.
For instance, in low-income countries, agriculture constitutes one of women’s main sources of income. Thus, when floods occur, women are left without a steady income, they might lose valuables such as farming tools which limits their ability to work in the long-run, and crops are often destroyed. These elements pose great difficulties on the capability of women to rebuild their lives and provide for themselves and their families.
Furthermore, women’s health and hygiene tend to be overlooked during times of crisis. Women lack the sanitation products necessary to keep themselves clean and not having to choose between their personal hygiene and buying food for their children.
In addition, women are still not included in the decision-making processes of rebuilding the area. The restoration of the affected region’s infrastructure and social costs require a gender perspective in order to create a space that facilitates the return to normalcy of all citizens. In this way, the engagement of women in positions of power can break the cycle of gender disparity.