How Hurricane Katrina survivors turned into fierce advocates for reproductive rights
“We cannot address climate change as solely an environmental problem. It is also a human rights imperative, and thus, a women’s rights imperative.”
One of the lessons from the storm was that women are at greater risk than men in times of crisis. To prepare for the next Katrina, advocates say, the government must provide more protection for women, including higher wages, more affordable housing and better access to health care — including contraception and abortion which are disproportionately used by cis women.
“This is not just about recovering from Katrina. This is about building a system of recovery for what we know is coming,” said Colette Pichon Battle, executive director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law and Policy at a town hall Wednesday on protecting women from natural disasters. The event was part of the Freedom to Breathe Tour, which is bringing together experts and advocates in cities across the South and West for conversations about climate change and social justice.
“We cannot address climate change as solely an environmental problem,” said Michele Erenberg, executive director of Lift Louisiana, at the town hall. “It is also a human rights imperative, and thus, a women’s rights imperative.” Speakers noted that New Orleans is exquisitely vulnerable to severe storms. This is partly a function of geography — most of the city sits below sea level, making it prone to flooding — but it is also a function of inequality, a matter of who can afford shelter and health care.
When disaster strikes, pharmacies may be shut down, limiting access to contraceptives, leading to unplanned pregnancies. Likewise, hospitals may be closed, leaving pregnant people without the care they need. Finally, abortion clinics may be inaccessible, leaving those who have lost a job or home or suffered physically or emotionally as the result of a catastrophic storm without a means to terminate a pregnancy.