Meet the women fighting against climate change in one of the most disaster-prone places on Earth
Hazardous weather increasingly sweeps through Barishal, Bangladesh, but in the face of such adversity, groups of women band together to support the community.
- Jyni Ong
- 9 March 2020
Misti is a boat taxi driver on the Kirtankhola river in Barishal, Bangladesh. There are only four women who hold such a role in the community, in comparison to the 40 men who also have the same job. Misti’s whole life has been affected by the rapidly changing weather in her home country. Her family reside on a houseboat which was destroyed during Sidr, the devastating cyclone that swept through the country at up to 260 kilometres an hour in 2007. Misti and her family were forced to swim for their lives and rebuild their lives, something they’ve had to do three times over since because of three more cyclones.
Nargis wanted to become a doctor, but had to halt her education when her father died at the age of 11. By 13, she was married. Her husband, a builder, is unable to work during the monsoon season due to heavy rainfall and flooding, and Nargis works tirelessly to support her two sons during challenging times.
Ayesha, on the other hand, depends on canals and water systems for her livelihood. Part of the water gypsy community, she’s spent her whole life on the water, relying heavily on her boat to catch fish. When cyclones and storms strike however, the extreme weather drives the fish away and to make matters worse, her boat-cum home suffers consistent damage.
These women are just a handful of people trying to do something about the extreme weather patterns caused by climate change in Bangladesh. In their disaster-prone corner of the world, these women are more likely to experience violence, miss out on an education and make a living due to social and economic marginalisation. They’ve taken part in a striking portrait series in collaboration with the British Red Cross, to raise awareness on the matter. Photographed by fashion photographer Rosie Matheson, the series highlights the strength and determination of these women, who, despite several adversities, come together in the hopes of finding a solution.
“Every single moment was memorable,” Rosie tells It’s Nice That on capturing this unique project. “Every day was completely different and offered so much.” She recalls the “incredible” Balurmath community whose energy kept her going throughout each day. A young man looked after orphaned puppies and local children helped the team set up their shots. She remembers the karate sessions run by Women’s Squad – an organisation set up by the Red Cross to support these women. The sessions taking place at sunset, “something [she will] never forget.” And because it was winter in Bangladesh, farmers dressed their goats in denim jackets and jumpers, but to Rosie and the rest of the British crew; Bangladeshi winter felt boiling in comparison to anything we experience in the UK.
With the emotive photography series, Rosie hoped to communicate a sense of relatability among us all. “I wanted the photos to feel warm and positive,” explains the photographer who has previously shot for the likes of i-D and Nike. On one hand, the intimate portraits capture the unique personalities of each woman, but on the other, the images also touch on the fragility of the Bangladeshi landscape and how these women’s lives are so easily disrupted by the extreme weather conditions.
Bangladesh is one of the countries on our rapidly changing planet which is affected most by the climate crisis. The make-shift slums, often built along the river banks, face challenges like flooding every single day. But despite such challenges, countless women across Barisal have banded together to support of each other in times like this. The Hatkhola Women’s Squad, for example, was a pivotal group in ensuring the safety of some of the most vulnerable members of the community when Cyclone Bulbul tore through the region last November. Its incredible work is helping to change the perceptions of women in a wider context.
The group helped the elderly, the heavily pregnant and the disabled during the disasters, escorting them to evacuation centres. And once the cyclone passed, the women rallied together to ensure the shelters were safe and clean while pooling local donations for the vulnerable. Around 60,000 people live in these hazardous communities in Barishal. Homes are built of wood or corrugated iron on scraps of underdeveloped land, making the structures further prone to collapsing or flooding. When monsoon season hits, flooding causes human waste to clog in homes, spreading diseases in its wake and to make matters worse, events such as these are becoming all-the-more frequent due to climate change. “Now it’s guaranteed to happen every year,” says Rashni, a member of the community, who recalls how the disasters used to happen once every five to ten years. “Now, we have two in one year.”
GalleryRosie Matheson: The British Red Cross
Rosie Matheson: The British Red Cross
Through UK Aid Match, every pound you give to the British Red Cross, up to the value of £2m, will be doubled by the UK government. With your help, we can support thousands of strong women – and, as a result, their communities – to be even stronger. Find out more here.
About the Author
Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor.