Disproportionately disadvantagedEntrenched gender biases make women more vulnerable to disasters and its effects
When disasters occur in a certain degree or frequency, it is bound to drastically change the natural state of the community and its surroundings. In Nepal and many other least developed countries, there is evidence that marginalised populations, including women, face the most tragic losses and in many cases become the major targets of injustice. It is important to understand that no two disasters are the same and therefore cannot be compared. Every disaster creates a different impact on each human being. Every country will be affected differently and no two individuals who have faced the disaster will have the same kind of response. The degree of any disaster risks depends mostly upon the destructive forces that they carry and the level of resilience and resistance of the affected community.
Sociology and vulnerability
Different studies have shown that natural disasters on an average kill more women in comparison to men. For instance, research showed that 53 percent of victims in the Gorkha Earthquake of 2015 were female—simply because more women were stuck inside their kitchens when the disaster struck.
Those who are alive have a difficult time in dealing with and coping up with the after effects caused by natural disasters. The vulnerability of women, too then, in comparison to men tends to increase in such scenarios creating a lasting impact on their lives as individuals and in the community as a whole.
There are several reasons for women’s vulnerability to the effects of disaster. First, the difference between men and women in biological and physical attributes differences have been seen as an important factor for a disaster struck area and in many cases, women are often on the disadvantaged side. Second, the vulnerability of women in the aftermath of a disaster increases because of factors like behavioral and social norms. Third, the pre-existing social order and gender-discrimination, which is more prevalent in rural settings but seen everywhere, is another cause.
Further, to exacerbate the issue, the various ways in which women experience inequality during their everyday lives becomes intensified in the aftermath of any disaster. Gender based violence such as rape, human trafficking, and domestic abuse also increase exponentially during and after disasters as UN reports have shown.
Despite the fact that there has been immense literature proving that women suffer more as compared to men during natural disasters, disaster management policies created by government bodies often don’t take the gender factor into consideration. The absence of a concrete gender analysis at the level of government indicates a very slow attitude towards gender concerns which as a result brings further disparity among different genders. Research on gendered disaster suggests that both vulnerability and capacity for women facing disaster and gender-situated issues will likely remain or could worsen after the occurrence of a disaster until some important reforms are made. Mental health stability and psychological problems are important factors to be taken into consideration in such cases but are mostly ignored which further worsens the situation.
The way forward
In order to segregate the division that is taking place in the aftermath of a natural disaster, the government and its counterparts must understand the needs of different genders separately and must design comprehensive policies—ones that are friendly for every individual and their communities as a whole. In addition, it also becomes very important to realise that every disaster leads to irreplaceable losses due to which many people become mentally traumatised. In many cases this leads to mental health problems like anxiety, depression and suicide.
It is during such time that the government must be ready with mental health counseling and be prepared with ways through which individuals get the right kind of treatment after a disaster. Partnering with different NGOs and INGOs working on similar sectors could be one of many options. But accountability and transparency of such organisations are equally important to ensure that the resource allocated reaches those in need and not only those with those with political and social connections.
As marginalised populations, including women, bear the brunt of the effects of disaster, they need to be engaged more in the planning process when it comes to emergency preparedness. Only when they become more aware about disaster occurrences and how to protect themselves can women reduce their vulnerability to such catastrophes.
Rimal is a program coordinator at the Institution for Suitable Actions for Prosperity (ISAP)