Almost one-third of Bangladesh’s population living in the disaster-prone coastal areas are directly or indirectly affected by devastating climate-impacts such as coastal floods, river-bank erosion, salinity, cyclones, etc.
But climate change doesn’t affect everyone equally. Especially in the villages located around the Sundarbans, mostly women bear the costs of adapting to climate change. Men are often out fishing in the river for several days or months and sometimes travel to distant places for labour jobs. Hence, homemaking, child-rearing, and elder-caring responsibilities fall to women in every family – always unpaid and usually underappreciated.
From cooking to cleaning, they have to do it all. Many of them work in the local shrimp or agro farms to share the family’s financial burden, earning a daily wage comparatively lower than their male counterparts. As they struggle with social inequality and gender disparity in every mark of their journey, their lives are seriously exposed to the cataclysmic impacts of climate change.
“28 years ago, I was married and taken into this household surrounded by shrimp farms in every corner. I gave birth to three daughters and a son,” shares Kohinoor Khatun, a resident from Chandnimukha, Gabura, Khulna.
“My husband would often take a job as a day laborer in different far-off places and leave me alone with our children for months. Besides looking after them, I had to work in local shrimp farms to support my husband. I would get exhausted, yet I could not complain. I would often get infected with vaginal infections and skin allergies from water salinity in local farms and ponds, but there was nothing I could do. “
“I had to ensure our children’s wellbeing; do all the household chores, including collecting water to cook, clean, and drink from faraway sources; and work outside, all at the same time. Many evenings, I would take my children and request our relatives or neighbors for overnight shelter, as I felt unprotected and scared.”
“On top of that, given our geographical location, I have experienced many natural catastrophes and had to find my means to survive along with my children. From running to the nearest cyclone centers to reaching out to the local relief campaigns and crying out for help – I have done it all, and I still do.”
Still? Hasn’t the situation changed? “No”, she says. Now she lives with two of her daughters and grandchildren, while her husband, both sons-in-law, and only young son work in separate cities as day laborers for most of the year.
“Sadly, many women in our area have been living that way till now. Even my daughters are living a similar kind of life that once kept me occupied,” she continues.
“Both my daughters gave birth to their children going back and forth to the cyclone centers, one during Cyclone Bulbul and another during Cyclone Amphan. I still travel 2km every day to the nearest pond to fetch drinking water. We still use the contaminated saline water for bathing and cleaning from the backyard pond of our house. We do not even have proper sanitation and hygiene facilities in our area. We can hardly manage and have to fight for our survival.”
Kohinoor does not blame the males in the family. She believes as this is their home, they had no other option but to adapt to the long, ongoing climate situation and its effects on the area. “To cope with constant climate changes affecting our living conditions and livelihood- we have to sacrifice our physical and mental stability. As we cannot move elsewhere or give up, we battle with our own limitations. This is our resilience against climate impacts and poverty.”