Sundarbans Forest and the Gendered Context of Cyclones: Sidr and Aila
The recurrence of cyclones as a form of extreme weather events is causing the degradation of the Sundarbans mangrove forest in Bangladesh. This study aims to discover the forest society members’ perceptions and behaviours about the Sundarbans, considering the before and after dimensions of the cyclones Sidr and Aila, which occurred in the coastal district of Satkhira adjacent to the Bay of Bengal. The study predominantly focuses on the forest-dependent women and men in a village called Shora. By employing the qualitative research methods of observation, in-depth interviews and focus groups, the present study critically investigates the women’s and men’s detailed perceptions of the forest, its resources, and how their perceptions and interactions in the use of forest resources have been affected by Sidr and Aila. In addition, the study documents the inhabitants’ notions about environmental security as it relates to the Sundarbans and their region. The study shows that the inhabitants become acquainted with the forest during their childhood through storytelling narrated by the senior family members and the elders known as Murubee. Although the local people follow long-established practices and beliefs when visiting the Sundarbans, the study reveals that, compared to the women of Shora, the men act in a bolder manner to gain access to the more distant and denser part of the forest throughout the year in the hope of higher cash incomes. In the pre-cyclone landscape, a few ultra-poor married, widowed and divorced women would enter the closer part of the forest to earn their livelihood. In the post-cyclone landscape, women, rather than men, harvest the forest resources in a more sustainable way. Yet, due to patriarchal attitudes and conservative perceptions of women based on religion, women gain only small benefits from forest resources as their access is confined. Furthermore, people consider Sundarbans a great source of oxygen, a provider of human security, and at the same time a protector from natural disasters. The findings suggest that in the post-cyclone context, many women are challenging long-established practices and beliefs by engaging in income-generating activities inside the forest, rather than in their homes. It also confirms that cyclone survivors prefer to earn an alternative non-forest source of income in order to protect the forest from human intervention.
KeywordsSundarbans Cyclones Sidr Aila Shora Gendered knowledge Environmental security
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