Women and Gender in Disaster Management

Women and Gender in Disaster Management

Successful measures for disaster risk reduction require the balanced and active participation of women, men, girls, and boys. Gender roles and relations play a critical but oftentimes overlooked function throughout all aspects of the disaster management cycle. In order to appropriately mainstream gendered perspectives into disaster management, practitioners should gain contextual understanding of the gendered vulnerabilities and risks to disasters within a given society. Moreover, stakeholders should recognize and capitalize upon the proven strengths and capacities of women in disaster-prone communities to act as leaders and agents of development and resilience-building in their own communities.

Community Organization

[Source: IFRC’s Gender Perspectives]

Turning gender neutral information into gender aware information

Introduction: Some of the current reports, data and material available to the National Societies on the core areas of interest might give the impression that programmes to not impact differently (either positively or negatively) on men or women and that men and women do not have different needs. However, when we adopt a gender-aware approach, it is necessary to recognize that the vulnerabilities, capacities, needs, life experiences and expectations of women and men are indeed different.

Why have gender-aware information? Existing sources of information should be disaggregated (i.e. broken down) by sex for needs assessment and programme planning. Sometimes this involves asking questions in a different way, at other times it entails going back to the information source and attempting to see if more disaggregated data is available.

How to compare gender-neutral information and gender-aware information: Below are some suggestions.

Women, particularly poor women, are “among the most vulnerable and marginalized segments of at-risk populations—vulnerability and marginalization that often increases in the wake of disaster. This is not a natural process. Women’s vulnerabilities are socially, not biologically, constructed, and are embedded in social, economic and political processes” [Source: Leading Resilient Development]. Gender inequalities pervade all areas of life. In many societies, the different roles and responsibilities that women carry in the household leave them overburdened in times of disasters and emergencies, leaving them with distinct survival disadvantages compared to men.

Therefore, it is critical to think of disaster risk reduction by incorporating a gendered perspective. “Although gender roles and relations often change during a disaster, gender analysis can serve as a lens through which to understand more deeply the roles people perform and their relations with each other, both within the community and with existing institutions and subsequently how people may react in an emergency situation. Such analysis contributes to more effective planning on how to prepare for relief measures” [Source: IFRC 2003].

To create and implement an effective strategy for disaster risk reduction, men and women should have full and equal participation in disaster planning, making key decisions, and identifying appropriate disaster preparedness activities. Policymakers and practitioners should allow for a given society’s gender roles and relations to inform all disaster preparedness planning, and they should make concerted efforts to promote gender mainstreaming and approach disaster risk management through an inclusive, gender-sensitive approach.

Moreover, there has been a gradual and noteworthy shift in recognizing and positioning grassroots women in disaster-prone communities as leaders and active agents of development and resilience-building in their own communities. Community organizations and governments are taking notice of women’s active roles and contributions to resilience-building. Many case studies reveal how women are “proficient in adapting to changing social and natural environments, organizing to collectively address problems, [and] drawing on traditional knowledge and improvising skills to face difficulties. Though the enormity of the stresses and shocks often overwhelms their efforts, experience demonstrates that poverty and marginalization do not necessarily mean passivity in the face of disasters, extreme events or development challenges” [Source: Leading Resilience Development].

By taking lessons learned from existing initiatives and by focusing on women’s strengths, knowledge, and experience in community resource management, National Societies and other actors can make important strides in mitigating post-disaster gender disparity, increasing opportunities for diversity and women’s engagement, and strengthening community resilience to natural hazards and climate change.

Gender refers to the socially constructed roles, responsibilities, behaviors, opportunities, privileges, limitations, expectations, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women, in a given society at a specific time and place.

Gender-based violence (GBV) is “any harmful act that is perpetuated against a person’s will, and that is based on socially ascribed (gender) differences between males and females.” [IASC 2005]

Gender equality, equality between men and women, entails the concept that all human beings, both men and women, are free to develop their personal abilities and make choices without the limitations set by stereotypes, rigid gender roles and prejudices. Gender equality means that the different behaviour, aspirations and needs of women and men are considered, valued and favoured equally. It does not mean that women and men have to become the same, but that their rights, responsibilities and opportunities will not depend on whether they are born male or female.” [ILO 2000]

Gender equity means fairness of treatment for women and men, according to their respective needs. This may include equal treatment or treatment that is different but which is considered equivalent in terms of rights, benefits, obligations and opportunities.” [ILO 2000]

[Gender] mainstreaming a gender perspective is the process of assessing the implications for women and men of any planned action, including legislation, policies or programmes, in any area and at all levels. It is a strategy for making the concerns and experiences of women as well as of men an integral part of the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies and programmes in all political, economic and societal spheres, so that women and men benefit equally, and inequality is not perpetuated. The ultimate goal of mainstreaming is to achieve gender equality.” [ECOSOC 1997]