Yesterday, the U.N. Population Fund’s William A. Ryan called for more efforts to be made to assist pregnant women living in Myanmar. Cyclone Nargis has resulted in a significant loss of health centers and midwives. “It is clear that many pregnant women do not have anywhere to go to deliver with skilled assistance,” says Ryan.
Before the cyclone even hit, the maternal mortality rate in Myanmar was 380 per 100,000 births — almost four times the rate in Thailand and 60 times the rate in Japan. And while the UN Population Fund has been providing supplies to Myanmar’s Health Ministry, new government guidelines is making it difficult to bring relief to survivors.
When a disaster occurs, don’t forget the gendered aspects. During the chaos, women can be more vulnerable to rape and violence by intimate partners. They may trade their bodies for aid. Because women often care for the young, the old and the sick, they may have greater needs or different needs than men. In many cultures, women have to protect their honor or dignity in different ways that may hinder their ability to get help.