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Disaster Risk Reduction and Furthering Women’s Rights  

Supriya Akerkar

Traditional conceptions of disaster mitigation focus mainly on risk reduction practices using technology; however, disaster mitigation needs to be reconceptualized as a discursive and social intervention process in the disaster-development continuum to further women’s rights and equality and their emancipatory interests before, during, and after disasters. Such reconception would be more aligned with current formulations within the Sendai Framework of Action (2015–2030), which to an extent highlights the need to engage with gender inequalities through women’s leadership in disaster and development planning and the fifth UN Sustainable Development Goal on furthering gender equality. As discursive practices, disaster mitigation should question discrimination against and marginalization of women in disaster recoveries and development processes in different contexts. Discourse about women and gender is ingrained in the society and further perpetuated through regressive and patriarchal state policies and practices in the disaster-development continuum. A critical and progressive politics for women’s rights that furthers their equality would counter regressive discourses and their effects. Women experience discrimination through complex and multiple axes of power, such as race, class, ethnicity, and other social markers. Instead of treating women as a passive site for relief and recovery, nongovernmental organizations, both national and international, should work with women as persons with agency, voice, aspirations, and capacity to bring about policy and social change in the terrain of the disaster-development continuum. Critical humanitarianism and mobilizing women’s leadership would be a hallmark of such work. The relation between disaster mitigation and women’s rights is that of a virtuous cycle that calls for a synergy between disaster response and development goals to further women’s equality and rights. A vision for socially just and equal society must inform the relation between disaster mitigation and furthering women’s rights.

Article

Gender, International Law, and Disasters  

Marie Aronsson-Storrier

Charting gender within international law on disasters is a twofold exercise: The first, more limited, inquiry concerns the development of regulations on disasters and disaster risk and the position of gender within these instruments. The second, more foundational, question is that of the position of gender and the space allowed for feminist and queer perspectives within international law itself, which, in turn, relates strongly to the root causes of disasters and the creation of disaster risk. References to a “gender-based” approach to disaster risk management are abundant in international law and policy instruments and can be seen in, for example, both the United Nations Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015–2030 (Sendai Framework) and the International Law Commission’s (ILC) 2016 Draft Articles on the Protection of Persons in the Event of Disasters (ILC Draft Articles)—two leading international law and policy instruments on disasters. However, neither of these instruments accounts for a particularly inclusive view of gender, nor do they engage with the underlying reasons for gender inequality. This is illustrative of broader issues concerning gender in international law and policy, and many of the challenges and shortcomings of international law and policy on disasters are inherent and (re)produced in the very fabric of the international legal system. Therefore, in addition to exploring the extent to which gender has been incorporated into the legal frameworks on disasters to date, it is essential to also critically explore core structures and practices of international law.

Article

Gender Mainstreaming and Climate Change  

Margaret Alston

Women and girls are disproportionately impacted by climate change, not because of innate characteristics but as a result of the social structures and cultural norms that shape gender inequalities. Feminist activists and transnational organizations continue to voice their concerns regarding the need for greater attention to gender inequalities in the context of climate change. Gender mainstreaming is a policy process designed to address the gendered consequences of any planned actions—the ultimate aim being to achieve gender equality. Gender mainstreaming emerged in the late 1990s at the Beijing Women’s Conference as a result of the frustrations of feminist activists and international nongovernmental organizations about the lack of attention to gender equality. Yet its implementation has been hampered both by a lack of vision as to its purpose and by ongoing tensions, particularly between those who espouse equality and those who support the mainstream. This has led to resistance to gender mainstreaming within departments and units that are charged with its implementation, and indeed a reluctance of key players to commit to gender equality. Yet there is still strong support for the original feminist intent from activists and researchers addressing the impacts of climate change. The transformational potential of gender mainstreaming is still viewed as a process that could address and challenge gender inequalities in the context of increasing climate challenges. However, there are barriers that must be overcome for the transformational potential of gender mainstreaming to be realized. These include equating climate justice with gender justice, ensuring that the radical feminist intent of gender mainstreaming is not co-opted by the neoliberal agenda of maximizing economic development over gender equality and women’s empowerment, and ensuring that organizations tasked with facilitating gender mainstreaming not only understand its intent but also address gender inequalities within their own organizational structures and practices.

Article

Hazards, Social Resilience, and Safer Futures  

Lena Dominelli

The concepts of hazards and risks began in engineering when scientists were measuring the points at which materials would become sufficiently stressed by the pressures upon them that they would break. These concepts migrated into the environmental sciences to assess risk in the natural terrain, including the risks that human activities posed to the survival of animals (including fish in streams) and plants in the biosphere. From there, they moved to the social sciences, primarily in formal disaster discourses. With the realization that modern societies constantly faced risks cushioned in uncertainties within everyday life, the media popularized the concept of risk and its accoutrements, including mitigation, adaptation, and preventative measures, among the general populace. A crucial manifestation of this is the media’s accounts of the risks affecting different groups of people or places contracting Covid-19, which burst upon a somnambulant world in December 2019 in Wuhan, China. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared Covid-19 a pandemic on March 11, 2020. Politicians of diverse hues sought to reassure nervous inhabitants that they had followed robust, scientific advice on risks to facilitate “flattening the curve” by spreading the rate of infection in different communities over a longer period to reduce demand for public health services. Definitions of hazard, risk, vulnerability, and resilience evolved as they moved from the physical sciences into everyday life to reassure edgy populations that their social systems, especially the medical ones, could cope with the demands of disasters. While most countries have managed the risk Covid-19 posed to health services, this has been at a price that people found difficult to accept. Instead, as they reflected upon their experiences of being confronted with the deaths of many loved ones, especially among elders in care homes; adversities foisted upon the disease’s outcomes by existing social inequalities; and loss of associative freedoms, many questioned whether official mitigation strategies were commensurate with apparent risks. The public demanded an end to such inequities and questioned the bases on which politicians made their decisions. They also began to search for certainties in the social responses to risk in the hopes of building better futures as other institutions, schools, and businesses went into lockdown, and social relationships and people’s usual interactions with others ceased. For some, it seemed as if society were crumbling around them, and they wanted a better version of their world to replace the one devastated by Covid-19 (or other disasters). Key to this better version was a safer, fairer, more equitable and reliable future. Responses to the risks within Covid-19 scenarios are similar to responses to other disasters, including earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, wildfires, tsunamis, storms, extreme weather events, and climate change. The claims of “building back better” are examined through a resilience lens to determine whether such demands are realizable, and if not, what hinders their realization. Understanding such issues will facilitate identification of an agenda for future research into mitigation, adaptation, and preventative measures necessary to protect people and the planet Earth from the harm of subsequent disasters.

Article

Masculinities and Disaster  

Scott McKinnon

Gender plays a role in all phases of the disaster cycle, from the lived experience of disaster survivors to the development of disaster risk reduction (DRR) policy and practice. Early research into the entanglement of gender and disaster revealed how women are made more vulnerable to disaster impacts by sexist and misogynist social structures. Researchers have since identified women’s central roles in building disaster resilience and aiding community recovery. Feminist scholarship has been highly influential in disasters research, prompting consideration of how intersecting social characteristics, including gender, sexuality, race, class, and bodily ability each contributes to the social construction of disaster. Drawing on work in the field of critical men’s studies, a small but growing body of research has engaged with the role of gender in men’s disaster experiences, as well as how hegemonic masculinity shapes emergency management practice, constructs widely understood disaster narratives, and influences the development of DRR policy, including policies related to the crisis of climate change. Rather than a fixed identity, hegemonic masculinity operates as a culturally dominant ideal to which men and boys are expected to strive. It is spatially constituted and relational, often defined by attributes including physical strength, bravery, and confidence. To date, the most substantial focus of research into masculinity and disasters relates to the lived and bodily experience of men impacted by wildfire. Australian researchers in particular have identified ways in which hegemonic ideals increase the disaster vulnerability of men, who feel pressure to act with bravery and to exhibit emotional and physical strength in conditions of extreme danger. Expectations of stoicism and courage equally impact men’s recovery from disaster, potentially limiting opportunities to access necessary support systems, particularly in relation to mental health and emotional well-being. Hegemonic masculine ideals similarly impact the experiences of frontline emergency workers. Emergency management workplaces are often constructed as masculine spaces, encouraging high-risk behaviors by male workers, and limiting opportunities for participation by people of other genders. Male dominance in the leadership of emergency management organizations also impacts policy and practice, including in the distribution of resources and in attentiveness to the role of gender in the disaster experiences of many survivors. Dominant disaster narratives, as seen in movies and the news media, contribute to the idea that disaster landscapes are ideal places for the performance of hegemonic masculine identities. Male voices dominate in media reporting of disasters, often leaving invisible the experiences of other people, with consequences for how disasters are understood by the wider public. Common tropes in Hollywood cinema similarly depict disasters as masculine events, in which brave cisgender men protect vulnerable cisgender women, with people of other genders entirely invisible. Identifying and addressing the role of masculinities in disaster is increasingly important within the crisis of global heating. As climate change increases the frequency and intensity of disasters, new ways of engaging with the environment and constructing DRR policy has become more urgent. Research in this field offers a critical baseline by which to move beyond binary gender definitions and to address damaging masculine ideals that ultimately harm the environment and people of all genders.

Article

Extending a Gendered Lens to Reduce Disaster- and Climate-Related Risk in Southern Africa  

Kylah Forbes-Biggs and Darren Lortan

The social construct of gender has been used to perpetuate an uneven treatment of women and men in various contexts and settings. Lessons learned through understanding this inequality and its role in shaping the differential impact of hazards and disasters on women and girls have led to the acknowledgment that their unique vulnerabilities and strengths need to be incorporated into planning and policy to reduce disaster- and climate-related risk. Notwithstanding these achievements, this incorporation into planning and policy has engendered little meaningful change at community and household levels. This focus on women and girls has had the further unintended consequence of overlooking the vulnerabilities experienced by those who do not necessarily identify as male or female and by those who may be prone to discrimination on the grounds of their sexual orientation. Certain aspects influencing the lived experiences of gender and sexual minorities are different from those of heterosexual women and girls. While some of the differential treatment they encounter may overlap, many of the discriminating practices target these gender and sexual minorities. The sentiments of others who advocate for extending the gendered lens approach employed in disaster and climate change research are echoed to include all within the continuum of gender and sexual minorities. Reported experiences of some these communities are explored in the context of disaster and climate change, drawing on lessons learned from their accounts. The focus is on the southern African geographical region, where gender inequality is predominant, and the growing threats posed by a changing climate and increasing hazard frequency and magnitude, exacerbate the vulnerabilities that the population may already be exposed to. This gendered-lens approach to the study of disaster- and climate-related risk is a purposeful examination of inequality across the gendered continuum intended to encourage inclusive planning, policy, and practice that are necessary for broader systemic change and foregrounding transformative action.