Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
Talking about menstruation has always been difficult. Whether it’s been students cringeing at the topic in classrooms or calls of shamelessness being directed at women speaking about it on public forums, menstruation has rarely been a favorite topic for many. But as women of reproductive age make up 26 percent of today’s global population, stigmas surrounding menstrual health care, access to period products and simple biological processes have just become horrendously outdated.
Despite the shame surrounding periods, almost all women can sympathize with the panic of not having menstrual hygiene products available when you need one. Our periods are brutal. They wait for no one and for nothing. A third of a woman’s country could be submerged underwater, her whole world could come to an end and yet I can guarantee you, it will not be her menstrual cycle showing her sympathy.
A strange analogy? Well, I mean it quite literally.
One-third of Pakistan currently sits underwater after devastating floods have ravaged the country, leaving more than 33 million people displaced. More than eight million of these flood victims are women of reproductive age, 650,000 are pregnant women and 73,000 are women expected to give birth in the next month.
It’s American lawmakers responsible for the climate crisis Pakistani women are undergoing today. And it’s American lawmakers responsible for providing them with aid that is inclusive of women’s health resources.
Pakistan may have contributed less than one percent to climate change, but displaced Pakistani women are on the forefront of climate disasters. They are currently using leaves and sand to manage their periods, while cultural taboos mean menstrual products have become entirely inaccessible to them.
The U.S. is the largest contributor to climate change, so why is it that the aid we are providing Pakistan, at $30 million dollars, nets out to less than one dollar per displaced person? For the extent of our contribution to causing global climate crises, it’s simply not enough.
National lawmakers need to support Pakistan’s joint appeal with the United Nations for additional aid, while ensuring aid is more inclusive of providing relief for women’s health issues. To guarantee the U.S. is compensating for the role it has played in Pakistan’s climate catastrophe, it additionally must aggressively pursue sustainable climate change action to ensure crises such as these do not continue happening.
We often dismiss our role in depriving other women of the same rights we expect to be upheld as a standard, but it is our own country’s lack of action on climate change that has left the women of underprivileged countries homeless and extremely vulnerable to reproductive health issues.
The effects of a climate disaster will always be most disproportionately experienced by the least privileged members of society.
And in Pakistan, women have been most heavily burdened by the floods. It’s been the pregnant women who face impending childbirth with no access to medical facilities, doctors or medications. It’s been the young girls who have been using whatever they can find to manage their periods. And ultimately, it’s been the women who face daily insults and calls of shamelessness for openly discussing the need for menstrual care to be included in humanitarian aid.
Access to period and reproductive health is not an issue isolated to America. Our impact on climate change and women in the global south’s reproductive rights are not mutually exclusive. Underprivileged countries will always be the first to face the repercussions of the actions of the West. Climate change’s consequences may feel like distant realities for us in America, but thinking we are isolated from the problems these countries face and actually being isolated from them are not the same. It has been our role in climate change that is actively stripping the reproductive rights of women in Pakistan, and it is our responsibility to help mitigate the consequences.
Our aid needs to take a more proactive approach to ensure we provide substantial emergency relief to Pakistan, at the additional $160 million dollars proposed by New York lawmakers. Furthermore, aid must sustainably work to alleviate the long-term effects of climate crises on women globally by funding global and local Pakistani initiatives combating period poverty.
Progressive lawmakers continue to fight to codify the protections of Roe v. Wade into federal law. This pursuit to protect women’s health care needs to be extended to Pakistani women’s reproductive rights as well. Preventing women’s health crises amid future climate disasters must become part of American policymaking. This prevention will only be achieved with long-term policies that can sustainably ensure women menstrual product access in natural disasters. Fulfilling Pakistan’s appeals for additional emergency aid is a necessary step, but it is only a preliminary one.
Imaan Shikoh is a sophomore public policy major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.