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Climate crisis reshapes family planning in Bangladesh

Climate crisis reshapes family planning in Bangladesh

Climate Reshapes

Few places in the world are suffering more from the effects of climate change than Bangladesh. Most of the country, no higher than 50 feet above sea level, is exceptionally vulnerable to severe flooding after monsoon rains. Consequently, women in Bangladesh are changing the way they think about having children.

John Yang speaks with Sally Dijkerman, a senior researcher for Ipas, to learn more about these impacts. “Our research along the Bay of Bengal in communities severely hit by cyclones shows that the climate crisis impacts everyone, but certain groups, especially women and girls, feel those impacts disproportionately,” Dijkerman says. “This includes direct impacts on their reproductive health outcomes, such as experiencing miscarriage, pregnancy complications, and premature labor during intense storms and flooding.”

Many women have to shelter in cyclone centers during the storms, where there are no nurses, doctors, medical supplies, or even sanitation materials.

For women who go into labor, this means giving birth in unsanitary conditions without healthcare professionals present. Women face the difficulty of having to evacuate and prioritizing their families over their own health. Traditionally, they are caregivers, so they make sure children, elderly people, and those with disabilities evacuate first, often putting their own safety last.

They see others experiencing pregnancy complications, stillbirth, and miscarriage during cyclones, which is frightening. This leads many to reconsider having children amid such instability and extreme weather events.

Climate’s impact on Bangladeshi women

Interestingly, some women have expressed a desire to have more children as a form of protection against potential childlessness in case their children are killed during storms. In Bangladesh and other countries where Ipas has conducted research, there’s a direct link between climate-induced conditions and increases in child marriage. Economic instability from climate change pressures families into marrying off daughters as a coping mechanism, gaining dowry payments and reducing the number of mouths to feed.

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The economic instability also creates family stress, leading to more intimate partner violence. Additionally, cyclone centers lack security, proper lighting, and separate spaces for men and women, becoming hotspots for sexual harassment and violence. Young girls reported holding their urine for hours to avoid these unsafe environments, leading to health problems.

Bangladeshi women are organizing and making demands for change. They demand decent work opportunities, access to sexual and reproductive health services, especially in cyclone centers. They’re also involved in disaster risk management committees, preparing their communities for safe evacuation.

With rising global temperatures, Dijkerman believes we will see this situation replicated worldwide. Extreme heat poses significant dangers, especially for pregnant women, a trend Ipas is observing globally.

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