Women, Gender and Disaster: Global Issues and Initiatives


Edited by: Elaine Enarson & P.G. Dhar Chakrabarti

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  • Chapters
  • Front Matter
  • Back Matter
  • Subject Index
  • Part One: Understanding Gender Relations in Disaster

    Part Two: Gendered Challenges and Responses in Disasters

    Part Three: Women's Organised Initiatives

    Part Four: Gender-Sensitive Disaster Risk Reduction

  • Copyright

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    In recognition of their pioneering work with and on behalf of grassroots women striving to reduce the risk of future disasters, all book royalties will be donated to the international network of Grassroots Organizations Operating Together in Sisterhood (GROOTS) to support the Disaster Watch project. To learn more, please visit their website http://www.disasterwatch.net/index.html

    List of Tables, Figures and Boxes

    List of Tables
    • 2.1 Gender Equality in Disasters 24
    • 10.1 Damage from the Great Hanshin Earthquake in Hyogo Prefecture 132
    • 10.2 Comparative Housing Damage Levels in Takarazuka City (single-mother household) 138
    • 10.3 Post-earthquake Housing for Single-mother Households 140
    • 21.1 Integrating CDRM and GE 282
    • 23.1 The Role of UNIFEM in Sri Lanka in Building Women's Resilience to Disasters 316
    • 25.1 Toolkit 1: Early Warning 339
    • 25.2 Toolkit 2: Evacuation 340
    • 25.3 Toolkit 3: SAR Operations 341
    • 25.4 Toolkit 4: Medical Aid 342
    • 25.5 Toolkit 5: Shelter 343
    • 25.6 Toolkit 6: Water and Sanitation 344
    • 25.7 Toolkit 7: Food and Clothing 346
    • 25.8 Toolkit 8: Health 347
    • 25.9 Toolkit 9: Ex Gratia Payment 348
    • 25.10 Toolkit 10: Mental Health 349
    • 25.11 Toolkit 11: Gender-based Violence 350
    • 25.12 Toolkit 12: Relief Management 351
    • 25.13 Toolkit 13: Education 352
    • 25.14 Toolkit 14: Damage Assessment 354
    • 25.15 Toolkit 15: Livelihood 355
    • 25.16 Toolkit 16: Recovery Planning 356
    List of Figures
    • 5.1 Key Watersheds of the Hindu Kush–Himalayan Region 59
    • 25.1 Emergency Response Framework 338
    List of Boxes
    • 1.1 Vulnerable among the Vulnerable 6
    • 1.2 Key Gender Issues in Disasters 14
    • 4.1 GDN Statement to the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction, Geneva, Switzerland, 5–7 June 2007. Oral and Written Statements Submitted by Dr Maureen Fordham, Head of the GDN Delegation 49
    • 16.1 SEWA's Eleven Assessment Questions 215
    • 24.1 Five Action Areas of the HFA 322
    • 24.2 National Government Policy for Gender Equity in Emergency Assistance 325
    • 24.3 Government Bureau Working with Women and Men to Map Risk 327
    • 24.4 Gender and Disaster Sourcebook 329
    • 24.5 Institutional Support for Gender-Sensitive Action Research 330
    • 24.6 Local Government Working with Women to Reduce Risk in Peru 333
    • 24.7 Partnerships for Gender-Sensitive Humanitarian Response 334


    Disasters have been on the rise and are predicted to increase in frequency and intensity due to climate change, rapid urbanisation and environmental degradation. When facing this challenging future of storms, floods and droughts, the active participation of all sections of society—particularly women—is crucial for building the resilience and well-being of all communities and nations. Disasters affect women and men differently, and due to deep-seated gender inequalities, women are at greater risk of suffering from disasters. But discrimination against women does not only accentuate women's vulnerabilities during disasters—it also wastes women's potential as sources of resilience.

    Women's roles in securing water, food and shelter, during and after disasters, have been well documented. Yet women are still marginalised in decision making on disaster issues, even as they often hold vital social knowledge and vast untapped capacity for reducing community risk. Women, Gender and Disaster: Global Issues and Initiatives reflects both women's and men's needs and concerns and shows why gendered perspectives need to be integrated into the risk and disaster management process. This book brings a wide-ranging, cross-cultural and grass-roots perspective to the two essential parts of disaster management: disaster response and disaster risk reduction, including case studies on how women are taking disaster matters in their own hands. It not only highlights challenges that must still be overcome but also provides recommendations for achieving equal participation of women in decision making and approaches for integrating a gender perspective into disaster reduction strategies. For example, practical issues such as gathering sex-differentiated data to address the gender division of labour and power in disaster planning are important tools for change. The overarching analysis of this volume makes it clear that without gender equality, sustainable development is not possible.

    We can and should use the cross-cultural insights shared in this book as a tool to increase our knowledge and understand gender vulnerabilities and capacities. The key role women play in disaster risk reduction has been clear to the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) since its inception. This is reflected in the Hyogo Framework for Action 2005–2015: Building the Resilience of Nations and Communities to Disasters, which calls for a gender perspective in all disaster risk management policies, plans and decision-making processes. The UNISDR Secretariat encourages governments, local authorities, international agencies, civil society and non-governmental organisations to use this publication to help make disaster risk reduction a movement founded on the specific needs, roles and potential of women, men, boys and girls.


    Director Secretariat of the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR), Geneva


    Risk is a part of the human condition, and we live with an eye to the ground and a ill to self-protection—women no less (and perhaps more) than men, and people of all ages, abilities, life conditions and cultures. Indeed, the historic inequalities we carry forward into the 21st century— inequalities in health, income, education, welfare, political voice and violence in war and in our homes—have made women risk managers extraordinaire. Women's survival and coping skills, their interpersonal networks and intimate care of the most vulnerable among us and certainly their knowledge of environmental resources and ecosystems are all life-saving in a flood or earthquake. This knowledge protects our families and communities as much or more than the risk maps we create, levees we build or technological information systems we develop.

    Many readers of this volume will know, as we do from our respective positions in academia and government, that gender in disasters is more salient in the management of disaster risk than ever before. Why is this? Part of the answer lies in the simple facts of rising social vulnerability: When extreme poverty increases, more women than men are plunged into extreme poverty. When lands are degraded, small landholders like women are most affected. An ageing population is a feminising one, and a society with more people living alone or rearing families alone has more single mothers and widows. Globalisation and urbanisation increase migration, bringing million more women to risky environments on the fringes of urban life. The list goes on.

    Part of the readiness now to examine gender may lie in the public face of disaster, as the mass media and independent media alike frame suffering and loss as female. The enormous tragedies of just the past five years (earthquakes in Pakistan and China, wild storms and floods in the United States, Burma and Indian Ocean states) are made real to outsiders through the grief of women and children. Moreover, the transformation of the lives of men and boys in the aftermath was never more evident than in the period following the 2004 tsunami. Certainly, gender is more salient now because of women's political mobilisation around issues such as the avoidable harm inflicted upon their families, livelihoods and neighbourhoods.

    The need for an inclusive and holistic approach to vulnerability reduction and resilience building has never been more urgent, and the effectiveness of gender approaches never more evident to mainstream disaster experts. This is still most true with respect to impact and emergency response but the momentum today is towards an understanding of women as risk managers whose contributions to preparedness, mitigation, emergency relief and sustainable recovery are indispensable. This builds on and goes beyond the decade-old campaign of the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction to highlight ‘women and children as keys to prevention’.

    The Social Construction of Gendered Risk Analysis and Practice

    The pioneering meeting of women in emergency management in Costa Rica and the early gathering in Multan, Pakistan, in 1993 sparked numerous subsequent gatherings, consultations, workshops and conferences (eight global conferences at last count). The constant refrain woven throughout these proceedings is for more gender-sensitive policy and practice, including both women and men. But the stronger message is for women's leadership at the grass-roots, the development and use of women's capacities and resources and approaches to disaster, linking both vulnerability and capacity to specific contexts and times. Women's lives are as complex and contingent as men's, and our gendered bodies, personalities, roles, organisations and politics are but one part of the social kaleidoscope.

    The new approach to gender that we see on the horizon also emphasises the contradictions in women's lives and their different and sometimes divergent needs and interests in disaster contexts. Do female relief workers necessarily ‘get it’ or respect the culturally specific gender relations they see in the wake of disasters? Do women always act as stewards of the land to reduce emissions or protect forests, for example? No, and nor do women by definition suffer more than men in disasters or always take proactive action in a crisis. In fact, the conclusion to be drawn from the disasters of the past two decades is much simpler: sex and gender are never automatically the primary social facts on the ground nor are these ever in play in isolation from other facts of life. But gender is also never irrelevant and must always be examined and reflected in practice, for men and boys as much as women and girls.

    But we do not do this very well yet. In a review of over 100 published articles (English and Spanish) written directly on research questions related to gender and disaster, Enarson and Meyreles (2004) identified two parallel and sometimes divergent analytic streams. Writers from the world's most affluent societies still tend to focus on the individual woman and her socially constructed vulnerabilities, especially those that are psychological and that develop in the wake of discrete disaster events. In contrast, writers based in less affluent countries describe gender relationally, taking into account how differently women and men earn their livelihoods or move in and out of the household and public spheres. They write more on the construction of risk than the management of discrete events. Surely, all angles of vision are needed to address this complex subject. But the global patterns of risk evident in our era of global warming manifestly threaten most of all the girls and women of the global South. Theirs is the knowledge we must capitalise upon to walk a different path and put human safety and freedom first. This is the most pressing knowledge transfer challenge today.

    Like our readers, we know that substantial barriers exist to a gender-equitable approach to disaster mitigation, preparedness, relief and recovery; even more so when we confront entrenched male dominance as a root cause of social vulnerability. But, at the turn of the 21st century, we also note the counter trends: a new community of practice is emerging based on converging interests, inter-organisational coalitions and inter-personal networks of all kinds. Gender and disaster specialists, activists, advocates and practitioners no longer work in isolation. There are new initiatives (for example, grass-roots women's groups partnering for prevention, response and recovery), new networks (for example, the Gender and Disaster Network [GDN] and Gender and Climate Change Network), new resources (for example, the Gender and Disaster Sourcebook and the Inter-Agency Standing Committee [IASC] Gender Handbook) and new institutional initiatives (for example, prepositioned gender expert teams active in the aftermath of disasters). In the wake of the enormous tragedy in the Indian Ocean and other losses, women's groups, large and small, are organising as never before to reduce hazards, rebuild sustainable communities for women and their families and protect women's fundamental human rights. The International Strategy for Disaster Reduction and its partners are also taking on gender mainstreaming more holistically than ever before.

    The Organisation of This Book

    The authors whose research and experience are represented here write on a very solid foundation that has grown rapidly since the publication of The Gendered Terrain of Disaster: Through Women's Eyes (Enarson and Morrow 1998), including rich analysis by practitioners and advocates (for example, Ariyabandu and Wickramasinghe 2004; Bradshaw 2001); the extraordinary achievements of the women's groups partnering through Disaster Watch around the world (Disaster Watch 2007); the first and second special editions on gender from the International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters (Morrow and Phillips 1999; Phillips and Morrow 2008); special editions of the Oxfam journal Gender and Development (for example, Clifton and Gell 2001; Masika 2002); papers contributed to the Ankara conference (UN DAW 2001) and to the Honolulu workshop (Gender Equality and Disaster Risk Reduction Workshop 2004); past contributors to The Gendered Terrain of Disaster: Through Women's Eyes, and many others whose current research and observations from the field can be accessed through the Gender and Disaster Network (GDN).

    Grounded in this new work, we selected writing that illuminates different aspects of reducing risk in the new century. Readers will find wonderfully diverse discussions of what this means for women, men and disaster risk management. In the first part, we set the stage by offering some foundational analysis of gender and disaster risk reduction for readers who may not be familiar with this terrain. Other readers may want to jump ahead to the second part, in which we move to specific challenges and the responses they elicit. Part three carries this perspective forward but focuses more closely on specific initiatives undertaken by women's groups to reduce risk. In the final part, theoretical and operational concerns in gender mainstreaming of disaster risk management are examined. Here, contributors identify specific strategies and outcomes and offer a variety of models, resources and action guides for implementing more general commitments to gender equity in disaster risk reduction.

    We offer this book as a testament to what is possible. We hope it is a book that will be read and used. With apologies for blind spots imposed by language, oversight or space constraints, we give sincere thanks to all who made this book possible, including our publisher and reviewers. To our colleagues who have much to say but not enough time to stop and write, we say—stop and write, we need to learn from you. May the next book come soon.

    Ariyabandu, M. and W.Wickramasinghe. 2004. Gender Dimensions in Disaster Management: A Guide for South Asia. Colombo, Sri Lanka: ITDG South Asia.
    Bradshaw, S.2001. Dangerous Liaisons: Women, Men and Hurricane Mitch. Managua, Nicaragua: Fundacion Puntos de Encuentro.
    Clifton, D. and F.Gell (eds). 2001. ‘Humanitarian Work’, Gender and Development, 9(3): 8–18. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13552070127750
    Disaster Watch. 2007. Archived Materials. Available online at http://www.disasterwatch.net/ (Accessed on 8 June 2009).
    Enarson, E. and LourdesMeyreles. 2004. ‘International Perspectives on Gender and Disaster: Differences and Possibilities’, International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, 14(10): 49–92. http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/01443330410791064
    Enarson, E. and B. H.Morrow (eds). 1998. The Gendered Terrain of Disaster: Through Women's Eyes. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publications.
    Gender Equality and Disaster Risk Reduction Workshop. 2004. Proceedings available online at http://www.ssri.hawaii.edu/research/GDWwebsite/pages/proceeding.html.
    Masika, R. (ed.). 2002. ‘Climate Change’, Gender and Development, 10(2). http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13552070215910
    Morrow, B. H. and B.Phillips (eds). 1999. ‘Women and Disasters’, International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters, 17(1).
    Phillips, B. and B. H.Morrow (eds). 2008. Women and Disasters: From Theory to Practice. Bloomington, IN: Xlibris Books.
    UN Division for the Advancement of Women (UN DAW). 2001. Gender Equality, Environmental Management and Natural Disaster Mitigation. Expert Working Group Meeting in Ankara, Turkey. Proceedings available online at http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/csw/env_manage/documents.html (Accessed on 8 June 2009).
  • About the Editors and Contributors

    The Editors

    Elaine Enarson is an American disaster sociologist currently working independently in Lyons, Colorado. Her personal experience in Hurricane Andrew sparked extensive work on gender-based vulnerability and capacity, writing from applied and theoretical perspectives on women's human rights, livelihoods, safety, housing, community roles, political mobilisation, family lives, and disaster quilting as well as gender and extreme heat, evacuation and disaster recovery. She has developed a number of gender and disaster training packages for practitioners and a manual for Canadian grass-roots women's groups on emergency preparedness. A founding member of the Gender and Disaster Network (GDN), Elaine was also the lead course developer of a FEMA course on social vulnerability and initiated a grass-roots risk assessment project with women in the Caribbean as well as the online Gender and Disaster Sourcebook. Currently she consults with UN agencies and teaches parttime in her areas of interest. Elaine co-edited The Gendered Terrain of Disaster: Through Women's Eyes (1998) and Women and Katrina: The Gender Dimensions of Disaster Recovery (forthcoming) and is developing a monograph on these topics in US contexts.

    P. G. Dhar Chakrabarti has been both a researcher and a practitioner of development policies and programmes on a wide range of issues. Starting his career as a Lecturer in Calcutta University, he joined the Indian Administrative Service in 1980 and worked on various assignments at local, provincial, national and international levels. During his tenure as Head of Women's Development Wing in the Ministry of Human Resource Development, he was involved with many new initiatives like the Gender Budget, Women's Component Plan and the National Policy on Women's Empowerment. Presently, he is heading both the National Institute of Disaster Management which is the nodal institute of Government of India for research, documentation, training and capacity building on disaster management; and the SAARC Disaster Management Centre which is a regional organisation of the eight South Asian countries. He was nominated by the Secretary General of the United Nations to serve as a Member of the Advisory Group of Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) of the United Nations. He further worked as a Member of the Expert Group of the UNISDR on Gender and Disaster. He is the editor of two journals he founded—Disaster and Development and Journal of South Asian Disaster Studies. Widely travelled, he has authored a number of books and contributed papers in journals published from different countries.

    The Contributors

    Sengül Akçar is Executive Director and Board Member of the Foundation for the Support of Women's Work in Turkey, as well as a civil engineer with an advanced degree in public administration.

    Carol A. Amaratunga is the Dean of Applied Research, Justice Institute of British Columbia. Her research interests include gender and disaster management, infectious disease outbreaks, public and community safety.

    Cheryl L. Anderson is a certified planner, Director of the Hazards, Climate and Environment Programme, University of Hawaii Social Science Research Institute and affiliate graduate faculty with the Department of Urban and Regional Planning.

    Madhavi Malalgoda Ariyabandu is a development researcher with specific focus on the issues of disaster risk, poverty, livelihoods and gender. Currently, she is South Asia Programme Officer, UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, Asia Pacific (UNISDR).

    Mihir R. Bhatt is Director of All India Disaster Mitigation Institute based in Ahmedabad, Gujarat.

    Sarah Bradshaw is a Principal Lecturer in Development Studies at Middlesex University. She is also a development worker with the British international NGO Progressio and works with Puntos de Enceuntro in Nicaragua.

    Adélia de Melo Branco is an anthropologist, author of Women of the Drought: Struggle and Visibility in Face of a Disaster Situation and UNIFEM Country Programme Manager in Mozambique.

    Leigh Brownhill is completing a post-doctoral fellowship at York University in Toronto. She specialises in analysis of gender, food and social movements, in particular in East Africa. Her book, Land, Food, Freedom will be published by Africa World Press.

    Sarah Fisher has a background in gender, development and sexual and reproductive and rights and is currently working as a Policy Research Officer for a maternity organisation in the United Kingdom.

    Maureen Fordham teaches disaster management at the University of Northumbria in the United Kingdom. She is a founding member of the GDN and manages the GDN website.

    Alice Fothergill is the author of Heads above Water: Gender, Class, and Family in the Grand Forks Flood. She teaches sociology at the University of Vermont with an interest in family and childhood studies, disasters, gender, inequality and qualitative methods.

    Cecilia Castro García is Mexican, urban planner and an independent scholar for local and Federal Government. She is also a plastic artist with exhibitions in México, Japan and New York City.

    Prema Gopalan has served as Executive Director of Swayam Shikshan Prayog (SSP) for over 15 years working to support poor rural women in India and to enable their leadership in periods of crisis.

    Minu Hemmati is a psychologist working as an independent consultant on multi-stakeholder processes and on gender aspects of climate change and sustainable development.

    Rosalind Houghton is currently a Ph.D. candidate at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, researching domestic violence reporting levels after Civil Defence emergencies in New Zealand.

    Chandni Joshi is Regional Programme Director of UNIFEM based in Delhi, India.

    Tamiyo Kondo is an Associate Professor at Kobe University researching disaster recovery planning and teaching community-based planning and housing policy.

    Lisa Kuzunishi is a Ph.D. researcher at Osaka City University and her major subject areas are housing policy for single mother/father households and domestic violence survivors in Japan.

    Yianna Lambrou is a sociologist and senior officer at the Gender, Equity and Rural Employment Division of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome.

    Brian Linneker is a Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Geography at Birbeck College, University of London, and a development worker with the British international NGO Progressio.

    Francie Lund is at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa and is Director of the Social Protection Programme of the global research and advocacy network WIEGO (Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing).

    Reiko Masai is Chair of the Board of Directors of the non-profit ‘Women's Net Kobe’ and manages a shelter for domestic violence survivors. She also assisted vulnerable women in the great Hansin Awaji earthquake.

    Manjari Mehta is a social anthropologist and independent researcher/consultant working on social inclusion, poverty and disaster risk reduction issues in the mountain areas of northern India. She lives in Dehradun, Uttarakhand in India.

    Prafulla Mishra earned a doctorate in Mangrove Ecology and has worked since the last 16 years on development and humanitarian programmes in India, Sudan, Chad and Ethiopia focusing on livelihoods, gender and humanitarian initiatives. He is now working at Kenya for the IRC.

    Helena Molin Valdés is the Deputy Director of the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR). She worked for eight years with participatory development projects as an architect in Central America before joining the UN Disaster Reduction Field 18 years ago.

    Audrey Y. Mullings is a consultant in the disaster risk management programme for the United States of America's Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA) for Latin America and the Caribbean. She has over 20 years of experience in the field of disaster management.

    Tracey L. O'Sullivan teaches in the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Ottawa, Canada. Her research and publications have focused on personal and occupation stress, coping and resilience with emphasis on caregivers and disaster preparedness.

    Lori Peek is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology at Colorado State University. Her research focuses on vulnerable populations in disasters, including religious and ethnic minorities, children and women.

    Simone Reinsch graduated from the University of Manitoba with a Master of Nursing degree (2006). Her ongoing passion for bringing rural gendered health issues and inequities to the forefront provided the impetus for her thesis work.

    Ulrike Röhr is a sociologist and civil engineer. She works extensively in the area of gender equality and climate change through the international network Gender CC-Women for Climate Justice.

    Samia Galal Saad is Professor of Environmental Health at Alexandria University in Egypt, and a senior consultant for gender and environment integration in policies and programmes of UN Organisations.

    Azra Talat Sayeed works on trade liberalisation impacts on the working class with emphasis on landless women in the rural sector. She is on the Programme and Management Committee of Asia Pacific Forum on Women Law and Development and is the Executive Director of Roots for Equity and Organisation working on anti-globalisation movement in Pakistan.

    Judith Soares is Senior Lecturer and Head, Women and Development Unit, The University of the West Indies.

    Tony Vaux worked for Oxfam for 28 years and is now an international development consultant based in the United Kingdom working in the field of conflict analysis, humanitarian policy and human security.

    Ajinder Walia is a sociologist currently serving as Assistant Professor at the National Institute of Disaster Management in India working in the areas of gender, community-based disaster preparedness and needs of children in disasters.

    Ayse Yonder is a Professor of City and Regional Planning at the Graduate Center for Planning and the Environment, Pratt Institute's School of Architecture in New York, and a member of the Huairou Commission.

    Luisa Emilia Reyes Zúñiga is Mexican. She has studied International Relations, English Literature and psychoanalysis. A specialist in gender and development, she collaborates with the NGO Equidad AC in the area of gender budgets.

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