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date: 20 April 2024

Gender-Based Violence and Disasterlocked

Gender-Based Violence and Disasterlocked

  • Debra ParkinsonDebra ParkinsonMonash University


Gender-based violence (GBV) increases in disasters across the world. The extent of the increase is not consistently or accurately enumerated due to a number of factors: practical, methodological, ethical, and sociological. Nevertheless, 50 notable publications on GBV in disasters were identified in 14 single countries between 1993 and 2020, and 16 multicountry studies were identified between 1998 and 2018. Most publications in single countries were from the United States, while key multicountry publications were from the United Nations, the World Health Organization, and the International Federation of Red Cross. Evidence to support the hypothesis of increased violence against women after disaster grew from the late 1980s, although by 2008, the question of whether GBV increases in disasters was still considered to be unanswered. Hurricane Katrina in the United States presented new opportunities to study GBV, and between 2008 and 2010, key papers were published on disasters across the world, all articulating the link between disaster and GBV. A common theme in the literature on violence against women in disasters is that it is evident worldwide. In countries as diverse as Iran, Pakistan, Japan, and Australia—although predisaster recorded levels of GBV may differ—there are commonalities of victim blaming, women’s sacrifice, and excusing men’s violence. By 2018, evidence had accumulated. Triggers, though not causes, of GBV were identified. After disasters, there is unsafe or insecure housing; substance abuse; stress, trauma, grief, and loss; relationship problems; unemployment and economic pressures; complex bureaucratic processes regarding grants, insurance, and rebuilding; reduced informal and formal supports and services; restricted movement and transport options; and a changed community and a different life course. Less identified as an explanation for GBV in disasters is the role of patriarchy and male privilege in allowing male violence against women and children. Despite the greater attention to GBV in disasters during the early 21st century, including through the United Nations and the World Health Organiztion, research remains fragmented, and emergency management across the world fails to address GBV in any effective, coordinated, or systematic way. Disasters indeed offer an excuse for men’s violence against women, and the deep disinterest in its relevance to disaster planning, response, or recovery is evidence that GBV after disaster is not seen as important. Women do not speak easily of the violence against them. In disasters, there is enormous pressure on women not to speak of men’s violence—from family members, friends, police, and even health professionals. The urgency of disaster response, the valorization of male heroism, and the complexity of postdisaster trauma and suffering challenge our commitment to the notion that women and children always have the right to live free from violence. Some effective initiatives to address increased GBV in disasters have been developed and indicate some progress. Recommendations for take-up and tailoring of these, along with embedded policy and practice changes, are clear. Until there are effective action and censure from the emergency management sector, from the legal processes, and from society, the vicious circle—of disaster followed by increased GBV and strengthened patriarchal power—will continue.


  • Gender Issues

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