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Chiang Mai women on post tsunami challenges in Banda Aceh, Indonesia

Chiang Mai women on post tsunami challenges in Banda Aceh, Indonesia

Cholpon Akmatova and staff reporters

Chut Ita is six months pregnant and getting more anxious with every day that brings her closer to giving birth because she does not have USD 100 to pay the hospital for obstetrical services. This 38 year old Acehnese woman has survived, with her husband and three children, the tsunami that took the lives of over 200,000 people and displaced, at least, 400,000 people in Aceh.

A group photo after the tsunami meeting in Aceh. From Chiang Mai, members from the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development, Migrant Action Program and the Women’s Studies Center, Chiang Mai University took part.

Chut Ita and her family have been living in a tent at the TVRI camp in Banda Aceh for the last seven months, and like the other 500 families there she has no idea how long she will have to stay in the camp and whether she will receive any assistance in terms of housing. They are wary of leaving the camp as they have been surviving on food rations they get from international aid agencies. Such is the plight of thousands of women - survivors of the tsunami.

Over 60 women, activists advocating for women’s rights in the tsunami aftermath from India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Thailand convened for a meeting to develop strategies to address challenges women face. From Chiang Mai the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development, the Migrant Action Program and the Women’s Studies Center, Chiang Mai University, took part in the lively three day discussions.

A group photo after the tsunami meeting in Aceh. From Chiang Mai, members from the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development, Migrant Action Program and the Women’s Studies Center, Chiang Mai University took part.

They shared information on women’s human rights concerns, identified post-tsunami challenges, and developed strategies to address the identified challenges. As a result, guidelines for gender sensitive disaster management will be developed.

A statement given out at the meeting read as follows:

1. Gender discrimination and women’s human rights violations. Thousands of women and children in the affected countries still live in camps and other temporary facilities which lack adequate sanitation, clean water, health services and security. Government compensation has not reached them or is insufficient to restore their livelihoods. In Thailand, women are discriminated even in death: funeral expenses paid for a man’s death are twice as much as that for women.

2. Women’s right to food is violated. People are on the verge of starvation getting one meal a day. The food rations provided are of very low quality. This affects health of children and pregnant, breast feeding and elderly women.

3. Women suffer from increased domestic violence in camps and temporary shelters, especially in India, Sri Lanka and Thailand, as a result of increased alcoholism.

4. Children in camps and temporary shelters do not have access to education.

5. Both temporary and permanent housing facilities are of low standards in design and construction and climatic conditions have not been taken into account; e.g. it is impossible to stay in tin shelters which heat up in the tropical sun. Facilities do not meet women’s needs: there are no kitchen and bathing facilities. In Thailand, some permanent housing has ownership problems: houses are built by sponsors on rented land or on the land owned by someone else, so sometime in the future resettled people will face eviction.

6. The tsunami has highlighted poor access to land. In Thailand, the tsunami has created new land conflicts with big businesses claiming the land of entire communities, especially of minorities, who have lived on that land for several generations but never had land titles.

7. Jobs and livelihoods: In all the affected countries, women lost their jobs and livelihood sources. The governments have failed to respond effectively and survivors have to rely on NGO support.

8. Caste and ethnic discrimination: In India, entire communities of Dalit (so-called untouchables) and Irula (indigenous people) have been left out of relief and rehabilitation efforts.

9. Plight of Burmese migrants in Thailand. Burmese migrants in Thailand have been completely ignored by both Burmese and Thai governments following the tsunami. In the immediate aftermath they could not recover the bodies of their family members for fear of getting arrested as aliens. Since they have lost their registration/ID cards they do not have access to government assistance or health services. They do not have income generating capacity of their own, as migrants have to rely on their employers to give them jobs, but the employers also lost their businesses in the tsunami.

10. Armed conflict situation in Aceh and Sri Lanka exacerbates human rights situation.

In the light of the above, the women’s group expressed great concerns about the lack of consultation with the people affected by the tsunami in the relief and reconstruction process. They asked the governments of the affected countries to actively involve affected people in the process of reconstruction and rebuilding and international as well as national NGOs to consult with the affected communities in planning, design and implementation of projects. Even though they are aware of the significant foreign assistance received, they demanded more transparency and accountability in the spending of funds.

They also recommend that state and non-state agencies working with the displaced must recognize and address gender specific and special needs of women, the needs and rights of children, elderly, disabled, women living with HIV/AIDS and affected women who need long-term medical and psychological treatment and assistance. And that all governments should recognize the rights of the fishing communities to the sea and the coastal land and ensure that business interests in the rebuilding process do not negatively impact livelihoods of the seashore people.

Cholpon Akmatova is the information and communications officer for APWLD (Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development)


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