Gender-based violence (GBV) is violence inflicted on someone because of their gender. It is also the worst manifestation of gender inequalities and discrimination against women and girls. Since the 1990s, the literature has increasingly documented how the combination of disaster impacts and the failure of protective systems (often unavailable in the first place) aggravates gender inequalities and violence against women and girls (VAWG). Sexual, physical, economic, psychological abuse, violence perpetrated by partners, trafficking, child marriage, and many different forms of VAWG are documented in a wide range of geographical locations at all stages of economic development. Far from being an “extraordinary” consequence of disasters, VAWG, particularly domestic abuse, reflects a continuum of a pervasive manifestation of inequality, violence, and discrimination. GBV survivors are unlikely to report abuse or seek help, particularly when protection support is unavailable or inadequate. This discrepancy between the prevalence of violence and the lack of protection is exacerbated in the aftermath of a disaster and during crises due to environmental changes. Yet, although crucial to better examine the prevalence, trends, and consequences of VAWG during and after disasters, gender-disaggregated data are persistently missing from disaster risk assessments and vulnerability analyses of climate change impacts. Such data are also required to better support intersectional analyses of GBV occurring before, during, and after crises—that is, not just documenting the experiences of women and girls but also understanding changes in power relations and the social identities and conditions that influence the diversity of experiences among women and men, in addition to documenting the experiences of sexual and gender minorities.
Virginie Le Masson
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.
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.
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.
Louise Baumann, Aditi Sharan, and JC Gaillard
In disaster studies, the “gender question” has so far been mainly addressed through the conceptual Western binary sex/gender alignment. This results in excluding from the conversation a large part of the population: those who live and present themselves in gender roles that do not match the one assigned to them at birth, do not experience gender in a way that is exactly male or female, or sometimes even reject the simple existence of what we call “gender.” Trans, nonbinary, queer, and other nonconforming gender identities’ experience of disasters remains therefore largely excluded from broader gender and disaster literature, policy, and practice. Yet, by endorsing the Western binary sex/gender alignment, gender and disaster scholars and practitioners not only risk reproducing the same oppressive discourses they intend to dismantle but also might miss the opportunity to advance their objective of implementing effective and inclusive disaster risk reduction policies and practices.
Zenaida Delica-Willison and Adelina Sevilla-Alvarez
Women as leaders, innovators, and trailblazers in promoting agendas to uplift society is an accepted fact. Worldwide, many have gained recognition and respect for their work in their spheres of advocacy. Nobel Prize–awardees Mother Teresa for charity and Malala Yousafzai for a child’s right to education are but two of the more universally recognizable exemplars of women who have reshaped worldwide advocacy for social upliftment. Away from the global limelight, countless other women, individually and as representatives of different sectors, have been steadily reshaping the political, social, economic, and development environments without much fanfare over the last several decades. Many civil society organizations in different parts of the world became avenues for women when advocating various issues, for example, promoting policy development and reforms, rights claiming, defending democratic spaces, affirming economic welfare and well-being in numerous sectors, and upholding gender equality and inclusion. Women are truly at the forefront of civil society advocacies, including disaster risk reduction. In the world of disaster risk reduction and development, women have become vanguards in promoting good disaster risk reduction governance. The role of women in advocating the mitigation or even elimination of disaster risks, as individuals or members and leaders of civil society organizations, must be viewed in the context of women who continue to balance home life and community work as challenges to be overcome Since the turn of the 21st century (and before), they speak with greater authority on disaster risk reduction, environmental governance, or sustainable development in the larger public sphere, which serves as a testament to their hard-won victory in making the world sit up and listen to those whose voices are least heard.