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OpinionsGender-Responsive Disaster Management is imperative

Gender-Responsive Disaster Management is imperative

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An inclusive approach to risk reduction has to be pursued

By Seema Jain

The frequency of natural disasters is increasing globally due to climate change and global warming. Every year, millions of people are affected by disasters such as heat waves, earthquakes, tsunamis, avalanches, droughts, and floods, with structurally excluded communities bearing the brunt. Addressing gender inclusivity in disaster risk reduction is essential to building resilient communities, especially those that are vulnerable and marginalized.

Disaster impacts are not gender-neutral. Women, particularly those from structurally excluded groups—indigenous women, women with disabilities, LGBTQ+ individuals, and elderly women—face intersecting forms of discrimination and marginalization. According to UNHCR's 2022 Global Trends Report 108.4 million people were forcibly displaced in 2022, the largest annual increase on record. Women and girls make up 51 per cent of forcibly displaced persons.

These vulnerabilities are compounded during disasters, leading to higher risks of violence, displacement, trafficking, loss of livelihoods, and disruptions to essential services like healthcare and . Women in refugee camps and temporary shelters face increased risks of harassment and assault. With COVID-19, we saw women trapped with abusers in their homes, tents and refugee camps. Reported cases of gender-based violence and the number of calls to dedicated hotlines rose by 60 to 70 per cent in different countries in the first months of the pandemic, and UNFPA estimates that for every 3 months the lockdown measures continue in some countries an additional 15 million cases of gender-based violence globally are expected.

Structurally excluded groups often have limited access to resources, knowledge, information, and livelihood opportunities, making them even more vulnerable during disasters. Post-disaster, they frequently struggle to access humanitarian aid, mental services, and opportunities to rebuild their lives and livelihoods.

In most of the societies, women have limited decision-making power in disaster preparedness, response, and recovery efforts. This lack of inclusion can result in interventions that do not address their specific needs and priorities. Additionally, loss of personal identity is a significant challenge for women during and after disasters, as their identity is often tied to male family members. Lack of identity documents can increase susceptibility to exploitation, trafficking, and abuse in post-disaster settings.

Disasters can disrupt social support networks, leading to increased isolation and psychological stress for women. This trauma can trigger identity crises, as individuals grapple with fear, helplessness, and a shattered sense of self. Displacement and loss of livelihoods further exacerbate these challenges, especially for women who depend on nature for their livelihood needs and who are primary caregivers or breadwinners. Post-disaster, women continue to be the primary managers of water for domestic and sanitation needs. Inadequate WASH (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene) facilities can lead to privacy concerns, safety risks, and health issues. The reverse migration during Covid 19 health disaster was witnessed that WASH needs of women was least prioritized. Disasters also disrupt access to maternal and reproductive health services, including prenatal care and safe childbirth facilities.

This highlights the requirement of an integrated gender approach to the planning, preparedness and operations of disaster mitigation. Engaging women and structurally excluded populations in disaster preparedness and providing capacity building and mental health support can help turn disasters into catalysts for resilience and adaptation. Women may discover new strengths and skills, but this requires collaborative efforts often missing in post-disaster planning and implementation. Integrating gender-sensitive approaches into disaster risk reduction policies is crucial. This includes using gender-disaggregated data, gender analysis tools, and gender-responsive budgeting. Training programs should focus on building the capacity of local communities, government agencies, and NGOs to respond effectively to disasters while prioritizing gender inclusivity. Support for women and vulnerable groups in obtaining identity documents and navigating administrative processes is essential.

Collaboration with grassroots organizations and women's groups can empower women and other structurally excluded groups with knowledge and skills related to disaster preparedness, response, and recovery. Providing financial literacy programs and vocational training on local crafts and non-traditional can promote sustainable rehabilitation efforts. For example, in Andaman, the Handicraft department's cluster approach to promote local crafts like bamboo and coconut shell crafts post-tsunami has generated livelihood opportunities for the community. Investing in gender-inclusive WASH infrastructure, such as separate sanitation facilities for women and girls, accessible water points, and culturally sensitive hygiene materials, is vital. Encouraging the active participation of women in planning, implementing, and monitoring WASH projects ensures their voices are heard. Real-time monitoring of WASH facilities is necessary to address immediate needs.

Educating communities on disaster preparedness must include a gender perspective. Disaster management should be a compulsory part of the school curriculum to raise awareness from a young age. Advocacy for the rights of women and vulnerable groups to obtain and maintain identity documents is also crucial, addressing barriers such as cost, bureaucracy, and discrimination. Capacity building for frontline functionaries on mental health and psycho-social support (MHPSS) is essential. Appointing trained female counsellors and providing tele-help lines for MHPSS services can support affected individuals not only during disasters but also in the aftermath.

A holistic and inclusive approach to disaster risk reduction is essential. By addressing the diverse needs, experiences, and perspectives of all individuals, particularly those with intersecting identities, we can build resilient communities capable of withstanding and recovering from disasters. Prioritizing gender inclusivity in disaster management policies and practices ensures that no one is left behind in times of crisis. (IPA Service)

(Writer works with CREA – feminist human rights organization)

 

 

 

Northlines
Northlines
The Northlines is an independent source on the Web for news, facts and figures relating to Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh and its neighbourhood.

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