Dhaka. - In 10 of the most climate-vulnerable districts of Bangladesh, more than 19,100 women have built better systems of support and preparation for disasters, while livelihood skills training has enabled more than 1,600 women to expand their businesses reported UN WOMEN Asia-Pacific on Wednesday.
Rajena Boiragi wakes up at six in the morning to collect crab and shrimp in her family fishing pond, usually spending around five hours a day in muddy waters gathering what she can to sell at the local market. The 55-year-old lives with her son, Heatler and her daughter, Indira, in the village of Holdibunia, located in the Mongla upazila (district) of Bagerhat, in south-western Bangladesh. “The pond is in my backyard so I don’t have to walk long and my son works with me, so together we get whatever we can, faster than if I was doing it on my own,” says Ms. Boiragi.
In May 2009, she lost all her fish when cyclone Aila hit the country. At the time 179 people died and more than 2.6 million were affected. In the south-west coastal belt, Aila left an estimated 500,000 people homeless, including Ms. Boiragi, who took shelter in a primary school. "I lost everything: my house and the pond were washed away along with roads and people’s belongings," she remembers.
According to a joint UNDP publication, the number of people displaced from their lands due to riverbank erosion, permanent inundation and sea level rise are increasing rapidly every year. Projections indicate Bangladesh, already one of the countries most vulnerable to climate change, will likely face more frequent, larger-scale and intensified floods, cyclones and droughts.
UN Women's Asia-Pacific Strategy on Gender, Climate Change, Disaster Risk Reduction & Recovery, cites prevalent gender inequalities and power differences in the Asia-Pacific region limiting women's abilities to respond and adapt to disasters and climate change impacts.
"Women in Bangladesh are actually the first to face the impact of climate change," says Dilruba Haider, Programme Coordinator, Gender and Climate Change for UN Women. "We are working on providing them with skills training on alternative and sustainable livelihoods and providing them grants so they can try to change their lives, for themselves and their families, and thereby build and increase their resilience."
In 2012, the non-governmental organization BRAC, in association with UN Women and with support from the Norwegian Embassy in Dhaka, started a project to reduce the vulnerability of women affected by climate change by increasing their options for earning a living. It has provided livelihood skills training in rice processing, crab farming, fish-net weaving, etc., and workshops on what measures to take when disaster strikes.
With such support, Ms. Boiragi managed to rebuild her house and fish pond, and has doubled her previous income. She is now thinking of investing in poultry and helping her daughter, Indira, set up her own textile printing business.
As a group leader, she encourages other women to invest in their capacities as well. "The women who lost their husbands in 2009 are now succeeding and moving forward. They learned to overcome the challenges presented in their lives thanks to the investment made in us."
In the 10 most disaster- and climate-vulnerable districts of Bangladesh, more than 1,600 women like Ms. Boiragi have already generated enough income and profits to expand their small businesses. Across the country, UN Women has also helped more than 19,100 women build better systems of support and preparation.