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Girls face cultural shocks in Pakistan flood camps

Posted by Shmyalla Jawad

Shmyalla Jawad 18 August 2010: Women and young girls hit by the Pakistan floods now face cultural challenges in the camps, blogs Plan Pakistan’s Shmyalla Jawad.

I have spent the last few days visiting camps in the Layyah district of Southern Punjab. Visiting these camps was a heart-wrenching experience. I was appalled to see the conditions in which these people are living. But what emerged for me as the most worrying thing was how women and young girls are being affected by this. They are always the worst hit in these situations.

Health and sanitation is a big issue. One camp set up in a government building had no bathing facility. Whereas the men and young children can take baths outside on the school lawn, women have no such option.

Many people didn’t have a chance to pick up their belongings when the floods hit their village so they have no change of clothes. Many are wearing what they left home in and without being able to wash, women’s hygiene has deteriorated. The situation is even worse for menstruating and pregnant women.

Cultural shock

Hygiene kits being distributed to women in the camps

Plan hygiene kits - including sanitary napkins - being distributed to women in the camps

The camps are also culturally shocking for women and girls. Many have never been around a man who isn’t a member of their family. Now they are amongst hundreds of men who are complete strangers.

Apart from the religious notions of covering up and not mingling with males outside one’s family, in Pakistani society, women are considered to be the custodians of male and family honour. This notion of honour is linked with women’s sexual behaviour so their sexuality is considered to be a potential threat to the honour of family. Therefore, the systems of sex segregation; purdah; are used by the society to protect the honour of the family.

But in the camps there are no provisions for purdah. Young boys and girls have to sleep in the same room, at times next to each other. Most mothers and families do not feel it’s safe for their daughters, especially in the current circumstances.

Targeted relief

But even then, I am hopeful, provided that relief is well targeted. Funds and relief items have started coming in, but we still have a long way to go, we need to ensure that relief is distributed effectively, efficiently and without unnecessary time delays.

People are trying their best to brave out this bad patch in their lives. Their major concern is how to help their children continue with their education; how to rebuild their lives, their houses and their communities once they go back. I believe that we should do anything we can to support them.

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