By Amy Lieberman
Sunday, February 7, 2010
Women in the isolated northern chars of Bangladesh are the first to feel the effects of climate change. Fairly forgotten by most of the world, they now have a boat that floats their way, bringing some medical help and community health training.
Getting the women to comply with the lessons in hygiene, nutrition and family planning has been challenging, said Naisha Kader, a Friendship health program officer, but "if we keep on talking and engaging them in conversation, women start listening."
On a hazy December afternoon, 20 or so pregnant women and nursing mothers gathered around Ferdousic, a community medic draped in a royal blue sari. She pointed to a display of locally-grown vegetables, like jute, which are high in nutrients.
"You don't have to be rich to be healthy," she told the women. "Beef, chicken and fish are not the only things that will keep you healthy."
Ferdousic later opened a small plastic suitcase, revealing the makings of a sex-ed kit: birth control pills, condoms, a rubber penis and a vagina model all stacked neatly inside.
Though Ferdousic and an accompanying female medic said that men willingly use condoms, Kader said the char women have greater family planning success when using birth control pills. However, not all women take their pills regularly and then they become afraid of the subsequent excessive, random bleeding.
Still, families are starting to pace their growth, with women no longer having six children within seven years, Kader said. Maternal mortality rates, though undocumented, are said to be decreasing, she added.
The medics doubt the educational sessions could continue during the rainy season, when all focus is placed on sheer survival, not infections caused by using dirty rags during menstrual cycles.
The islanders think of themselves as too poor to move to the mainland permanently, but erratic weather patterns may make that option a necessity, in time.
Following the December U. N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Bangladesh asked for at least 15 percent of any amount developed countries will put forth to help developing countries tackle climate change's effects.
The Copenhagen Accord, which countries have yet to sign, will allocate $30 billion a year for developing countries from next year to 2012 and $100 billion a year by 2020.
It's unclear if the char-dwellers, who do not pay taxes and are essentially unrecognized, will see any of that money.
Yet, if the government sponsored a shift to the mainland, one woman from a recently-established char explained, it wouldn't prompt substantial change.
"This is our land and this is what we have," said Hushinada, a young mother of two who identified herself only by her first name. "Even if we move, we will still be beggars. We will still struggle."
Amy Lieberman is a journalist based in New York City. She writes primarily out of the United Nations Secretariat for a Brazilian newswire.
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