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Sep 1, 2017

Examining humanitarian aid through the gender lens

Oxfam India   /   Domaki Bhutia

Women are especially hard-hit by the social impacts of environmental disasters. Gender inequality in social, economic and political spheres often results in vast differences between men and women in disasters.


These inequalities are often manifested in household decisions about the use of relief assets, voluntary relief and recovery work, as well as access to evacuation shelter and relief goods. Women are particularly vulnerable because they have fewer resources in their own right and under their own control. They have no permanent place in decision- they suffer traditional, routine and gratuitous gender-biased oppression. Their care giving roles expand dramatically after a disaster. Their special health needs, in fact especially those of pregnant and lactating women and adolescent girls are ignored.


Hence, examining relief activities through a gender lens is critical to delivering the most effective and well-rounded humanitarian response possible. One such need of women and adolescent girls are their menstrual hygiene needs. In the advent of a disaster, they usually have no access to sanitary pads or cloths. We customise our relief items considering the menstrual hygiene needs of the women by discussing with them their preferences and needs.


During South India Flood Response, we had distributed sanitary cloth in the initial period based on our assessment. Later, when the programme phased into early recovery period, we realised that the needs of women and adolescent girls were different. The women in the older reproductive age group used sanitary cloth while the adolescent girls used sanitary pad. Therefore, we tried to explore other ways in which we could meet the menstrual hygiene needs of the adolescent girls. Thereafter, we did an emergency market mapping analysis and intervened with an innovative markets based WASH (Water, Sanitatio and Hygiene) intervention i.e. commodity vouchers, which were redeemable for sanitary napkins. This way, we could meet the menstrual hygiene needs of the girls and support the local economy.



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