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.
Disaster Risk Reduction and Furthering Women’s Rights
Disasters, Climate Change, and Violence Against Women and Girls
Virginie Le Masson
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.
Gender and Disaster in Bangladesh
Disasters are a frequent phenomenon in Bangladesh and have increased in frequency and severity since the late eighties. The consecutive devastating floods of 1987 and 1988 and the cyclone of 1991 attracted international attention. Due to geographical settings and anthropogenic causes, the country is exposed to disasters that include devastating floods, cyclones, tornadoes, tidal surges, riverbank erosion, drought, and salinity intrusion; and climate change is intensifying these events. Challenges of hazards and disasters affect all segments of the population, however, there is a gender dimension that shows the way women and men respond and adapt to these disasters. Both women and men are unable to utilize their time in productive activities due to the absence of employment opportunities. Women and girls have a wider range of responsibilities in their households due to their socially defined gender identity. During a disaster the affected households are often forced to move to shelters or refuges, where women have to perform their gender-assigned domestic responsibilities in difficult circumstances. When men move elsewhere in search of work, women have to shoulder both women’s and men’s tasks to maintain family sustenance with available resources. Women and girls suffer more than men from poverty, hunger, malnutrition, economic crises, environmental degradation, insecurity, and health-related problems, including those related to reproductive health and adolescence. Women and girls are also frequent victims of violence. However, despite challenges, women’s strategies are vital to rural populations’ ability to cope with and adapt to different phases of disasters. Gender and disaster discourse seeks explanations of the principal factors structuring the responses of women and girls during crises and in postdisaster situations. Issues related to women’s gender-specific disaster vulnerabilities and resilience mechanisms, and how they are affected by climate change and pandemic, require continuous research, and legal and regulatory frameworks must mainstream gender and disaster with inclusive interventions.
Gender-Based Violence and Disaster
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 Mainstreaming and Climate Change
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.
Hazards, Social Resilience, and Safer Futures
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.
Masculinities and Disaster
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.
Queering “Gender and Disaster” for Inclusive Disaster Risk Reduction
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.
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.
Women at the Forefront of Civil Society Advocacy in Disaster Risk Reduction Governance
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.