Women and children are particularly at risk of losing their lives in cyclones, but the reasons are more complex than just lack of knowledge about what to do when disaster strikes.
During Cyclone Sidr in 2007, hundreds of children and women died simply because the men weren’t at home to give them permission to leave the house and seek safety in a cyclone shelter.
To address this issue, the Bangladesh Red Crescent, supported by the British Red Cross, set up women’s forums to provide training on how to respond to cyclones, but also to create a safe space where women could talk, share information and build their confidence.
Better prepared for cyclones
In each forum, women were taught how to respond to cyclone warnings. This includes protecting their family assets and going to a cyclone shelter. They were also given a ‘preparing for cyclones’ flip chart so they can share the information with friends and neighbours.
Sokanur, 25, from Badurtala community, says: “During Cyclone Sidr, we lost our home, ducks, chickens and fish from our pond. Recovering was really hard, especially in the days after when we had no food or drinking water.
“In 2009, I joined the women’s forum. Now, when there’s a cyclone warning, I put important documents, some money, dried food and drinking water in a plastic bucket and bury it in a deep hole. The bucket is attached to a rope and at the other end a plastic bottle, which is left above ground so we can find it after the cyclone passes.”
Attitudes to women
Throughout the five-year programme (2006-2011), our team worked with religious leaders, who are influential in community life, particularly on what is considered socially acceptable behaviour. Over the course of the programme, there was a profound shift in attitude towards women being seen in public unaccompanied by a male relative.
Abdullah Manna, a mullah in Badurtala community, says: “I think it’s good that women can now visit each other, have meetings in their courtyards, and share important information about cyclones.”
In addition, some women were trained in first aid, and search and rescue, and women are increasingly playing an active role in their communities.
Protecting lives and livelihoods
Sokanur says: “In the past, I didn’t think to go to the shelter, but during Cyclone Aila in 2009, I knew what to do. I even put a net over the pond so I didn’t lose the fish.
“I use the Red Crescent flip chart to explain all these things to my neighbours. Now we know how to take initiative and reduce our losses.”
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