Publication Updates: Guidelines for Gender Sensitive Disaster Management
In 2006, APWLD published the Guidelines for Gender Sensitive Disaster Management (Guidelines). The Guidelines are the result of the documentation project “Survey of Women’s Human Rights Violations in the Aftermath of the Tsunami in India, Indonesia, Thailand and Sri Lanka and the October 8, 2005 Earthquake in Pakistan” coordinated by APWLD.
The Guidelines have been praised for providing many sound advices for agencies handling disaster management efforts. Recently though, it has received comments particularly from the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA). WABA is a global network of individuals and organisations concerned with the protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding worldwide.
WABA has communicated with APWLD and given detailed comments particularly: “While your document covers a more comprehensive perspective to disaster management…some of the information on infant feeding in your guidelines contradicts the Infant and Young Child Feeding during Emergencies (IFE) guidelines. We are concerned that as a result, some recommendations concerning infant feeding/formula and baby foods will undermine breastfeeding practices in emergencies.”
As part of APWLD’s process, we have consulted with our members and we have come up with the following statement also in line with suggestions provided by WABA.
APWLD would like to stress that gender sensitive disaster management must be based on the fundamental principles: “Women’s Rights are Human Rights – therefore relief efforts should not only be based on needs, but on ensuring that women’s human rights are protected and promoted.” (page 4, Guidelines, APWLD 2006).
APWLD has had a campaign on Food Sovereignty since 2005. Food Sovereignty repudiates the use of infant milk formula and considers breastfeeding as a right of the mother and the child. We recognise that infant formula is a corporate agenda to increase profit of TNCs and is dangerous for the health of the child.
APWLD asserts that the intention of the Guidelines is to ensure that women and children have the right to food. The baby milk formula recommendation came from situations when mothers cannot naturally lactate or instances when babies cannot be given breast milk because the mothers have died in the disaster. Another issue was that in the earthquake affected regions in Pakistan, even milch animals that could have been used as a last life saving measure rather than infant milk formula, could not be found.
The disaster response at that time did not provide any alternatives to the women. At the time of the disaster and in the areas where the research was conducted, babies died for lack of milk and nourishment.
The whole scale of the problem was not just lack of access and information but encompassed gender inequality, socio-economic power structures, cultural differences and discriminatory caste systems. With all these coming into play, women in disaster situations are even more burdened making them extremely vulnerable during disasters. Then the disaster struck. They have not been given voices in decision-making, they have not been consulted.
We iterate the need to ensure that safe spaces, support and nutrition are available to women to enable relactation. Relief agencies should ensure that women are informed and supported on how to re-lactate, and be provided information on the dangers and consequences of formula milk feeding, when women could opt for relactation. The IFE Guide Protecting Babies in Case of Emergencies: The role of the Public also states:
“In cases where there are babies whose mothers have died or cannot be located, the option of wet nursing, where another woman breastfeeds the baby, should be explored. In such situations babies may be breastfed by a woman who is already breastfeeding, or a friend or relative may relactate.”
“Babies continue to be born in emergencies and no matter what country or type of emergency, all mothers should be supported to breastfeed their babies within half an hour of giving birth and encouraged to not give their baby any other food or liquid until they are six months of age.” (IFE Guide Protecting Babies in Case of Emergencies: The role of the Public, p. 2. http://www.ennonline.net/ife/generalpublic/whatshouldhappen.aspx)
We recommend that information on women’s rights and viable alternatives be made available especially immediately after disasters, ensure that information reaches the women who are most vulnerable, and systems and processes be in place to enable women to realise their rights especially during disaster situation. There should be no stigma attached to the provision of relief services when a woman has made an informed decision, and this decision should be respected.
We would like the public then to refer to the following when planning their disaster response for infant and child feeding during emergencies:
These references are also on the e-version of our Guidelines available on our website www.apwld.org