Pain into Power, Wounds into Wisdom: Exploring women’s experiences of wellbeing in the cyclone shelters of Bangladesh

Author: Tazrina Chowdhury

Chowdhury, Tazrina, 2021 Pain into Power, Wounds into Wisdom: Exploring women’s experiences of wellbeing in the cyclone shelters of Bangladesh, Flinders University, College of Nursing and Health Sciences

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Being the 9th most disaster-prone country in the world, Bangladesh frequently suffers mass casualties and economic loss from disasters, including tropical cyclones, tidal surges, tornadoes, drought, floods, river erosion, and fire hazards. Among all the disasters, Bangladesh is repeatedly threatened by tropical storms and cyclones, exposing approximately one-third of the total population of the country. Several cyclone evacuation centres, commonly known as cyclone shelters, have been constructed in the coastal areas as a preparedness measure of the government, yet a large proportion of the coastal population, especially women, are unwilling to use them. As a result, over the years, the death rate for women from cyclones has remained constantly high in Bangladesh. Existing studies and the scientific literature demonstrate a range of concerns that discourage women from evacuating, and highlight women’s disadvantages in the pre- and post-disaster phases. The experience of women themselves, the women’s voice, is not apparent in this existing research. Therefore, the perspectives of women on their lived-experience as evacuees in the cyclone shelters remains largely unknown. This research explores the lived-experience of women who have experienced evacuation to the cyclone shelters, and recommends a range of provisions to improve their experience and wellbeing as female evacuees.

Hermeneutic phenomenology, an approach concerning the interpretation of experience, was adopted to investigate the research question. The theoretical framework of the research was predominantly grounded in Heideggerian phenomenology. Heidegger’s notion of hermeneutic phenomenology as providing experience of the truth of being-, was the key concept underpinning this phenomenological research. A total of 19 women who stayed in the cyclone shelters from three extremely vulnerable districts of coastal Bangladesh were interviewed in two sessions by the researcher. The participating women shared their lived-experience of staying in the cyclone shelters, what was it like to be an evacuee, and how they experienced wellbeing in the shelters.

The participants’ narratives were analysed using Max van Manen’s thematic analysis process which complemented the hermeneutic circle. Research themes were identified from the narratives of the women, through which it was perceived that women’s experiences of the cyclone shelters were intimately connected to their reality and their socio-cultural context. The salient theme of this study was being understood (as a woman), otherwise articulated as unfolding women’s dasein, understanding their perspectives, and having an insight into their lifeworld, which were referred to and reflected in women’s narratives regarding their experiences in the cyclone shelters. Being understood as a woman portrayed the quintessential image of women living in the coastal areas and how being understood as a woman subsequently influenced their vulnerability when exposed to a crisis such as a cyclone emergency, which was depicted in the next theme, being a woman during crisis. Several themes focused on women’s lived-experience, the incidents they lived through, and the emotions they felt while staying in the shelters: being in a hostile situation, being fearful, uncertainty, being faithful, and being against the odds. While it was apparent that women’s emotional experiences were not always a result of an actual threat, but rather developed through their presuppositions and past experiences, the emotions were true in their reality and an inseparable part of their lived-experience. The remaining themes, being faithful and being against the odds unearthed potential provisions that can improve women’s experiences of wellbeing in the cyclone shelters and indicated the potential of women from the coastal communities to improve their situation in the shelters through social bonding and communication.

The findings from the research provided a new horizon of knowledge to understand how women’s dasein consequently impacts their experience of wellbeing while staying in the cyclone shelters. The study offers a deep inquiry into women’s experiences and recognises the significance of women’s voices to improve their experience as evacuees in coastal Bangladesh. Finally, understanding women’s experiences presents an opportunity for more informed disaster policies to strengthen disaster preparedness strategies and community resilience in the coastal areas of Bangladesh.

Keywords: Bangladesh, women, phenomenology, lived-experience, community resilience, evacuation centres, cyclones

Subject: Development Studies thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2021
School: College of Nursing and Health Sciences
Supervisor: Professor Paul Arbon