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Leaving no one behind: preserving dignity in the wake of disasters

Bangladesh: Farmer and day labourer Sirajul Islam with his wife Ruksana Begum and their four-year-old son Rabiul in front of a raised homestead where the family took shelther after floodwaters submerged their house in July 2020. @UNICEF/UNI351915/Chakma

"For the first time in my life, I felt that I was treated like a normal human being", says Kajli, a member of the transgender community in Kurigram District, Bangladesh. During the heavy monsoon rains that flooded the northern and north-eastern districts of Bangladesh in July 2020, leaving millions displaced from their homes, Kajli received a dignity kit from UNFPA which was designed to meet the needs of the transgender community, including items such as clothing, underwear and razors.

In order to reduce the barriers and vulnerabilities that women and girls face during emergencies, UNFPA distributes dignity kits, which contain items like culturally appropriate clothing and underwear, menstrual pads, toothpaste and toothbrush, soap, flashlight, whistle, and information about the services available. Traditionally, dignity kits have been designed to meet the hygiene and protection needs of women of reproductive age. Recently, UNFPA has been diversifying the kits to meet the specific needs of other vulnerable groups such as transgender women, older people, and people with disabilities, made possible by support from Australia through the Regional Prepositioning Initiative.

The distribution of dignity kits during emergencies forms part of UNFPA’s Gender-Based Violence programming. Women and girls with disabilities experience violence at rates much higher than women and girls without disabilities, and the same is true of transgender women. The intersection of gender inequality and gender identity, disability and age can make people particularly at risk of GBV.

Transgender women in Bangladesh

In Bangladesh, UNFPA has worked with the transgender community to identify the basic items that they need most during disasters. Although recognized as the third gender since 2013, most of the transgender community - locally known as Hijra community - live in precarious conditions. Misconceptions and superstitions about the Hijra community still exist in society and as a result, they often end up living on its margins. Due to the community’s isolated position, their particular needs are often overlooked in decision-making, which further increases their vulnerability. The tailor-made dignity kits by UNFPA for the transgender community may be a small action, but it makes a big difference.

“My only hope is that interventions like this can change the way society thinks and help include us into the mainstream,” said Kaiji.


Bangladesh: Dignity Kit distribution center in Cox's Bazaar. @UNFPA


Supporting older persons displaced by disasters in Indonesia

According to Help Age International, while 22% of the global population is over 50, less than 1% of humanitarian aid targets older people. In Indonesia, based on lessons learnt from the 2018 Central Sulawesi earthquake and tsunami, which displaced more than 200,000 people of which an estimated 16,600 were over the age of 60, UNFPA saw the importance of prioritizing the often overlooked needs of older persons in emergency response. UNFPA held focus group discussions with older women and men displaced by the crisis and learned about their specific needs and received inputs on the items that would make a big difference to their wellbeing.

An elderly man living in a temporary shelter in Central Sulawesi who received an elderly kit from UNFPA said “I had a motorcycle accident and the Women Friendly Space volunteers noticed it and gave me an elderly kit which had a walking stick in it that I now use to support me walking after the accident. My wife and I also received glasses to help us read.”

During an emergency, the ability to read enables people to access information, including about the services that are available to them, and supporting their mobility ensures that they can access those services. But there is also an intangible benefit to receiving customised support - you feel like you haven’t been forgotten.

Close relationships with community health networks in Indonesia have helped UNFPA develop specially adapted kits for the elderly.  The innovation in delivering targeted support for vulnerable members of the community has been replicated in other disaster-prone countries in the Asia-Pacific region. @UNFPA

 “I feel blessed there is such services to us.
They listened to me.”

-An elderly man living in a temporary shelter in Central Sulawesi who received an elderly kit from UNFPA


Indonesia: Dignity kits can contain flash lights, whistles and radios. These can help women feel safer when they are displaced from their homes. UNFPA and partners ask women and girls affected by emergencies what they need, and customize the kits for different communities. Radios helps the elderly stay connected to public health information. @UNFPA/Carly Learson

People with disabilities in the Pacific

While an estimated 15% of the world’s population is living with a disability, too often the specific needs of people with disabilities are not considered in both humanitarian preparedness and response. Furthermore, the Pacific is characterized by rates of gender-based violence up to twice the global average and these rates are 2-3 times higher for women with disabilities. The lack of disability inclusion in humanitarian response efforts and an increase in violence during emergencies place women with disabilities in a position of extreme vulnerability.

In order to better respond to these needs, in 2019, UNFPA partnered with the Pacific Disability Forum and IPPF to hold a workshop with Disabled Persons Organisations from six Pacific island countries on Strengthening Gender Based Violence in Emergency Programmes to Support Women and Girls with Disabilities. As part of this workshop, people with disabilities identified how to best customise dignity kits to meet their needs. In addition to the items already included in the standard Pacific dignity kits, such as a lavalava (a printed cloth worn as clothing), the kits for Persons Living with Disabilities include items such as incontinence pads, a plastic sheet, hot water bottle and gloves. Through the Regional Prepositioning Initiative, dignity kits for people with disabilities are now prepositioned in Fiji, ready for distribution in the next emergency.

Humanitarian relief is too often delivered based on inaccurate concepts of family units and must take into account the range of individual needs among those who have been displaced. Strengthening partnerships on the ground to address the unique needs of the most vulnerable helps build resilience of individuals, communities and institutional capacities to ensure the best possible collective outcomes for humanitarian response and recovery. With the generous support from Australia through the Regional Prepositioning Initiative, UNFPA is working to ensure that no one is left behind during emergencies.


Kiribati: Access and mobility for people with disabilities is already challenging in the Pacific, but it's even harder during disasters and the chaotic aftermath. UNFPA has been able to contribute to the disater plans for countries like Kiribati by preparing kits that are adapted to the needs of people with disabilities. @UNFPA/Carly Learson



Tonga: Kalasia works with Ma’a Fafine Moe Famili to support vulnerable mothers and children in Nuku'alofa, the capital of the Kingdom of Tonga. Kalasia makes weekly visist to vulnerable mothers and people with disabilities Ma’a Fafine Moe Famili uses a uniquely Tongan, community-focused approach to inclusive early childhood development and women’s support, and it’s groups like this that play an essential role in disaster relief planning because of their intimate knowledge of how to reach vulnerable people with disabilities. @UNFPA/Rose

About the Project

The Asia-Pacific region is the most disaster-prone in the world. In order to strengthen preparedness and build resilience, UNFPA’s Asia-Pacific Regional Office manages a flagship programme, the Regional Prepositioning Initiative, supported by Australia, which targets the most disaster-prone countries in the region.

Since 2016 and as of September 2020, the Regional Prepositioning Initiative has reached nearly 140,000 direct beneficiaries with more than US$ 1.6 million worth of essential supplies to meet the sexual and reproductive health needs of women and girls and to prevent and respond to gender-based violence in 54 emergencies across 15 countries.

Prepositioning has dramatically improved UNFPA’s humanitarian response in Asia and the Pacific in terms of speed, quality and efficiency. Prepositioning has also strengthened UNFPA’s reputation and reliability as a humanitarian actor, provided new opportunities to advocate for measures to address sexual and reproductive health and gender-based violence during humanitarian responses, and helped to build trust with governments and other partners.

These outcomes assist UNFPA’s work in relation to the humanitarian, development and peace-building nexus.

UNFPA is thankful to the Government of Australia, through its Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, for supporting the Regional Prepositioning Initiative.

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