Female Adolescents and their Sexuality: Notions of Honour, Shame, Purity and Pollution during the Floods

Citation:

Rashid, Sabina Faiz, and Stephanie Michaud. 2000. “Female Adolescents and their Sexuality: Notions of Honour, Shame, Purity and Pollution during the Floods.” Disasters 24 (1): 54–70.

Authors: Sabina Faiz Rashid, Stephanie Michaud

Abstract:

This paper explores the experiences of female adolescents during the 1998 floods in Bangladesh, focusing on the implications of socio‐cultural norms related to notions of honour, shame, purity and pollution. These cultural notions are reinforced with greater emphasis as girls enter their adolescence, regulating their sexuality and gender relationships. In Bangladeshi society, adolescent girls are expected to maintain their virginity until marriage. Contact is limited to one's families and extended relations. Particularly among poorer families, adolescent girls tend to have limited mobility to safeguard their ‘purity’. This is to ensure that the girl's reputation does not suffer, thus making it difficult for the girl to get married. For female adolescents in Bangladesh, a disaster situation is a uniquely vulnerable time. Exposure to the unfamiliar environment of flood shelters and relief camps, and unable to maintain their ‘space’ and privacy from male strangers, a number of the girls were vulnerable to sexual and mental harassment. With the floods, it became difficult for most of the girls to be appropriately `secluded'. Many were unable to sleep, bathe or get access to latrines in privacy because so many houses and latrines were underwater. Some of the girls who had begun menstruation were distressed at not being able to keep themselves clean. Strong social taboos associated with menstruation and the dirty water that surrounded them made it difficult for the girls to wash their menstrual cloths or change them frequently enough. Many of them became separated from their social network of relations, which caused them a great deal of anxiety and stress. Their difficulty in trying to follow social norms have had far‐reaching implications on their health, identity, family and community relations.

Keywords: Bangladesh, 1998 floods, adolescence, sexuality, gender, women

Topics: Economies, Poverty, Environment, Environmental Disasters, Gender, Girls, Health, Mental Health, Infrastructure, Water & Sanitation, Sexuality Regions: Asia, South Asia Countries: Bangladesh

Year: 2000

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