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  • Iman Irwin

The Neglected Intersection: Gender Responsive Climate Action During Floods

Torrential rain that has lasted for weeks on end since 17th December 2021 have left many Malaysians wading through rising waters. Whilst the series of floods have forced approximately over 125,000 people from all corners of the country to leave behind their submerged shelters and property, voices of the victims have also been drowned and left unspoken - letting overwhelming numbers of death be a testament of the unheard pleas of our people. This problem is magnified to a greater extent when there has been little to zero media attention given to women and their struggles to survive during flash floods.

The Neglect

The obvious reason as to why gender-responsive climate action has gone unnoticed during floods is because information and data that have been published by local news outlets are usually generalized, instead of women-focused. There is a severe lack of media reports that specifically address the plight of women’s welfare during floods. As an example, reports released by the media will usually be centered on public safety (ie: predicted weather forecasts and traffic information). Although this information provides valuable knowledge for evacuation, management and control processes, it still heavily neglects an important demographic affected by the natural disaster - women and their welfare.

Women meet with many struggles when these unfortunate turn of events occur. For example, the concerns of a pregnant woman’s safety during flood evacuation processes, or the state of privacy for lactating mothers and women on their periods. When these problems and challenges are being disregarded in local news, it tarnishes women-specific post-crisis analysis at policing making levels. Women-related issues will be regarded as insignificant and are less likely to be brought up to higher authorities and policy makers in decision making tables.

In the event that flash floods were to occur again, Malaysia would not be able to respond more efficiently and positively towards women-specific issues. This results in the predicaments shouldered by women being left unaddressed. Thus, shifting a long-term structural problem for women during flash floods, cycling from generation to generation.

The Intersection: How do we meet halfway?

  1. Regional and international news channels must increase media coverage on womens’ plights during and post-floods If journalists and media reporters are able to interview and have more conversations with women who were affected in the flash floods, news portals can act as a concrete avenue for them to express their plights and setbacks. The amplification of their voices can then be a catalyst of change - raising public awareness on the dire necessity to prioritize gender-responsive climate action in disaster management planning.

  2. Governments must design flood relief centers to be sensitive towards practical gender needs Privacy is an unattainable luxury in communal spaces like flood relief centers. These temporary shelters, like community halls and schools will be heavily saturated with villages of displaced families and most of the time, each family only gets to survive on a ‘tikar’ or ‘toto’ to mask the cold, concrete flooring. Despite these unbreakable realities, it is still essential for flood relief centers to cater and provide safe physical spaces for women. As examples: - Covered, private spaces for lactating mothers - Separate shower facilities according to gender - Covered abolution areas for Muslim women - Installation of sanitary bins in the public toilets, as well as regular disposal of used sanitary pads by cleanliness authorities - Personal hygiene kits to include sanitary pads, panty liners, tissues, used newspapers

  3. Governments must prioritize and bring up women’s welfare issues to authorities for post-recovery strategic planning Natural disasters can impose emotional unrest to victims due to the grief of lost family members, property loss and forced business closure. Fathoming the level of destruction that took place over such a short period is undeniably heavy. Without proper services to help consolidate the stress and tension, there would be a risk of domestic abuse in these shared shelters. These welfare issues must be properly addressed to authorities like the National Disaster Management Agency Malaysia so that flood relief centers can be equipped with free medical services, psychosocial support and mental health services for all victims. For women specifically, specialized health facilities like standby boats or 4WDs to commute pregnant women from flood relief shelters to nearby hospitals should also be provided. To ensure that these mental and welfare issues are being consistently discussed in the parliament, more representation of women in policy making tables is necessary. Women must be included in rebuilding efforts.

  4. Government must continue to facilitate monetary subsidies to financially support women post-disaster Distribution of monetary aids and social welfare schemes for lost and reparation of personal properties, business premises and equipment are important to help women to get back on their feet post-flood and ensure social security.

  5. The public should support local feminist-driven charities and organisations The most accessible and convenient way for the public to give a hand to women suffering in floods is to donate to crowdfunds that provide gender-sensitive aid and necessary items for women and children. Examples of donation drives during #DaruratBanjir from WikiImpact: - Budi Care (Baby essentials and diapers) - Hero Rescue (Baby essentials) - Abim Malaysia (Women essentials and sanitary pads) - Adab Youth Garage (Batik cloths, new undergarments and sanitary pads) - We Listen Malaysia (Sanitary pads, adult diapers)

  6. The public must continue to demand gender-focused policies

Public pressure and scrutiny has the power to produce good policies. This is primarily because policy makers will be more incentivised to research, survey and design social protection strategies that recognize the multiple forms of struggles that women experience in floods when these issues are trended and viraled on changemaking social media platforms like Twitter. This can ensure future flood mitigation plans address women’s specific needs at every stage of life. As such, let us get loud about gender-responsive climate action to push for more gender-inclusive guidelines, frameworks and policies for Malaysia. Closing Remarks Floods in Malaysia are an annual misery and as the wise George Santayana once said, "Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it”. It is our hope that Malaysia will continue to listen to the drowning cries of the people and to provide the necessary helpline to let the voices of all Malaysians, especially women stay afloat.


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