To ensure that women and girls receive the support they need in times of crisis, says Fouzia Yasmin, Senior Manager at Pakistani mental health organization Rozan, “relief support programmes need to be designed to address the vulnerabilities of women and girls during disasters”.
Stepping up for women and girls during the flood crisis in Pakistan
Catastrophic flooding in Pakistan that began in mid-2022 has killed over 1,500 people, displaced nearly 8 million,and left countless more in areas still submerged and lacking shelter, food, clean water and medicine. Amid the disaster, women and girls are facing additional risks to their safety.
“The destruction of infrastructure and the lack of global resources have made it extremely difficult […] to reach far-flung areas, and the floods have jeopardized medical care systems and community support, which [leaves] women and girls at increased risk of violence,” explains Fouzia.
Funded by the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women (UN Trust Fund), Rozan runs a project in the Hyderabad and Sukkur districts of Pakistan to improve institutional support for women survivors of domestic violence when they leave temporary safe shelters. The project focuses on building the capacity of service providers, enabling them to offer specialist support services including shelter; medical, legal, and psychological aid; and vocational training that can help women survivors find job opportunities and set up their own businesses post-shelter.
Since 2019, the women-led organization has also conducted awareness-raising campaigns to transform harmful perceptions of survivors and ensure that they can safely return to their communities. And the Rozan team has trained 72 service providers on ethical guidelines and protocols, better equipping them to work with survivors.
But the destruction of the floods has severely disrupted Rozan’s activities and services. “It has been extremely difficult for community-based organizations, who understand local situations and challenges, to address the specific needs of women and girls”, says Fouzia.
As the flooding reduces available support services, it’s also driving increased demand for them. Heightened tensions, fear and uncertainty coupled with loss of income are driving increased violence against women and girls—especially violence by intimate partners and other male family members. Cases of harassment and sexual violence have also been reported, fueled by disputes over food and other essential items. As food insecurity rises, young girls in particular are at higher risk of violence, including sexual exploitation and forced marriage “in exchange for money to buy food for the rest of the family”, Fouzia explains.
Support from the UN Trust Fund has enabled Rozan to lead flood relief drives based on assessments of the needs of women and girls, and to provide dignity kits and basic medical and survival supplies to communities settling in camps and temporary shelters. Rozan’s team of psychologists have also been providing emotional and psychosocial support to these communities, helping to address issues of stress and shock.