Water, floods and harassment

Sakina Mai, a forty two year old woman from Zamapur, Multan, chose not to stay at camps as she has four grown up daughters and wanted to save her daughters from sexual harassment during floods of 2010 (United Nations Development Fund for Women).

Sexual harassment was 19 times more frequent during flooding 2010 than normal circumstances according to a survey. After flooding, rate of girls trafficked increased. Women face privacy issues during floods. There are no security measures taken during repetitive floods in Pakistan. According to a survey, 172 women were raped in Sindh, 654 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 2 were gang raped in Balochistan and 1, 075 in Punjab during floods of 2008-2011. These reported cases are alarming for every province and if floods continue, as per assessments, with same frequency, then women will be at greater risk of sexual victimisation.

Rural women also face harassment issues during water harvesting. A number of surveys confirm that rural women, especially in ‘water stressed’ communities spend a high proportion of their time collecting water. The Pakistani Rural Household Survey of 2001 found that 25 percent of women reported fetching water during the week prior to the survey; in water stressed communities, the percentage of women spending time collecting water increased significantly to up to 60 percent in rural Baluchistan and 40 percent of women in rural Sindh. Research shows that when access to drinking water services worsens, women, not men, bear the higher time costs and according to one study, households in some rural communities could save as much as 1,200 hours per year if water was available within the home. Difficult access to water increases women’s work load and reduces time that could be allocated to other productive activities. In particular, in Pakistan, putting water sources closer to the home has been associated with increased time allocated by women to market work.

In developing countries like Pakistan, men are responsible for financial expenses and women are supposed to take care of families. Rural women don’t have access to water. Matter of water availability is more important in these areas than clean water. Women have to find and collect water for their families to drink, wash, cook and clean. They walk miles, carry heavy buckets of water, wait for hours for their turn and pay exorbitant price. When they are old enough, girls join this effort. They spend countless hours trying to provide this basic life necessity. To meet this basic life necessity they come across countless issues. They have to ignore their little kids, leaving them at home, sometimes alone, to fetch water. No data is available for harassment cases which young girls face in rural areas while water harvesting. However, personal interviews in rural areas of Punjab showed that girls are harassed when they go for water collection. There is big research gap and this area of research is highly neglected by research organisations, think tanks and government institutions in Pakistan. Because of the high illiteracy rate (65.8 percent), lack of confidence and social taboo girls are not allowed to speak about such issues.

To meet access to clean drinking water few projects are underway in some rural areas, such as Punjab Government has allocated Rs 45bn, Balochistan 10 billion, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh 10 billion and 1.5 billion respectively, for clean drinking water for the fiscal year 2016-17. This budget only focuses on water supply projects but no focus has been given to water harvesting, which we have to achieve by 2030 according to one of the targets of the 6th Sustainable Development Goal.

Since flooding is a repetitive phenomena the Federal Government need to a allocate budget for the security of women and sanitation facilities to maintain their privacy.

To address harassment issues during floods, a complaint cell should be available 24/7, run by a female, so that ladies can feel secure and confident while filing complaints. NGOs should come forward for capacity building of women to flood prone rural areas of Pakistan. Young girls and women should be aware of their rights.

Since Pakistan is a flood prone area and many assessment studies showed that repetitive floods will hit many areas in future so there should be “Anti- Harassment Policies for Women” for time of flooding.

Federal Flood Commission (FFC) and Water and Power Authority (WAPDA) should prepare proper plan for safe evacuation and timely provision of relief camps especially for women. Pregnant women should be provided with basic health and food facilities during floods.

Health issues are also neglected during water harvesting. Pregnant women have to travel long distances to collect water for domestic use. Funds should be allocated for water availability in poverty struck rural areas.

As highlighted earlier, the research gap of harassment issues during water collection from distant places require immediate attention and need to bridge this research gap. For that think tanks, research organizations and NGO’s working on women rights should come forward.

Maryam Shabbir

Maryam Shabbir

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