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Climate Change

Wombs Or Livelihoods? Dilemma For Women In Maharashtra’s Beed

According to a new paper from the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), drought stood out as the most common reason for migration and more than half the women (55.73 per cent) from households that migrated had undergone a hysterectomy

Wombs Or Livelihoods? Dilemma For Women In Maharashtra's Beed | Climate Change
Hysterectomies of this kind are still taking place despite widespread outcry in the country

New Delhi: In the semi-arid lands of Maharashtra’s Beed district, women face a stark choice — endure excruciating menstrual pain or risk losing their livelihoods. Climate-induced droughts have ravaged the region, pushing families into poverty and forcing women to migrate in search of work in sugarcane fields.

However, the demanding nature of this labour — coupled with exploitative contracts — leaves women with few options but to undergo hysterectomies to avoid missing work and incurring financial penalties, according to a new paper from the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED).

Also Read: Temperature Rise In India Due To Climate Change Poses Health Risks To Pregnant Women: Study

Lata Waghmare, who migrates to Karnataka with her husband every year to work as cane cutters, said she delivered her second baby in a sugarcane field, scared of taking a leave post-delivery because of “khada (leave)” charges. She told IIED,

The penalty for skipping one day’s work is in the range of Rs 500 to Rs 1,000. I got back to work five days after the delivery. To feed the baby, I carried her to the field with me.

She added,

While carrying the cane bundles, I kept her on the floor in one corner. The tractor ran over my baby. I lost my child.

The 34-year-old Dalit woman returned to work the following day, unable to take leave to grieve.

She said,

I bled for a month after the delivery. In March 2010, I went to Beed and got my uterus removed. (The) doctor told me that lifting heavy bundles and not taking rest post-delivery led to the bleeding.

Hysterectomies of this kind are still taking place despite widespread outcry in the country. The procedure, performed mostly in private clinics, can leave women with lasting pain and mental health problems.

Also Read: Climate Change, Salinity And Menstrual Health Problems: Sundarbans Women Battle Triple Whammy

Researchers surveyed 423 households in two different areas of Beed for the paper titled “Women Paying the Cost of Climate Crisis with their Wombs”.

Of the total, people from 253 households migrated to work in the sugar industry.

The majority of those migrating for work said they cut sugarcane during the harvest season. Local labour contractors — known as “mukkadams” — typically hire husband-and-wife teams or “jodis” to work in pairs, not through formal contracts but informal agreements.

A typical day for these labourers involves shifts ranging from 12 to 16 hours, throughout the six-month harvest period. Men will usually cut the cane while the women will tie and stack bundles. These pairs are often subjected to wage deductions for work missed, creating a fear of taking any leave.

Jayashree Owhal, a 45-year-old cane cutter from Kathawada village in Beed district, told the researchers,

My (menstrual) cramping became unbearable after a point. I went to see a gynaecologist in Beed, he suggested I should stop lifting heavy bundles but that was the only source of income for us. So I decided to get the hysterectomy done and get rid of this every month ‘pain and stain’.

Other women described having nothing to use as sanitary products other than the clothes they use to carry the cane bundles. These are often left covered in pesticides and chemicals, with tiny cane particles stuck to them.

Ritu Bharadwaj, a principal researcher for IIED, said,

When we talk about the losses incurred and the damage done by climate change, we’re not just talking about flooded apartments in New York, or scorched hillsides in Greece. These women’s experiences are also a result of climate change, which has decimated their livelihoods and, some of what they have lost — their dignity, good health, in some cases, their lives — is difficult to quantify.

The IIED said drought stood out as the most common reason for migration and more than half the women (55.73 per cent) from households that migrated had undergone a hysterectomy, compared to less than a fifth from households that stayed in Beed (17.06 per cent).

Also Read: 69% People In India Seeing Severe Effects Of Climate Change: Survey

Some told IIED they were still in their twenties when they underwent the procedure.

Analysis of data between 1986 and 2022 shows there has been an average annual decrease in rainfall of about 2.31 mm per year in Beed, with droughts becoming more frequent and more severe.

Village records and the IIED survey data suggests a notable shift in migration patterns, with 55.67 per cent having started migrating in the last decade, up from 5.42 per cent three decades ago. This trend correlates with the increasing frequency and severity of drought conditions aggravated by climate change.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via the Banega Swachh India initiative, which in its Season 10 is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Ayushmann Khurrana. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ populationindigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In a world post COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (WaterSanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fight malnutrition, mental well-being, self-care, science and health, adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, which is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollutionwaste managementplastic banmanual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.

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