Gender in disaster management

A resident of Tatalon, Quezon City, one of the women affected by typhoon Ondoy. (Photo by Ayi Muallam/
A resident of Tatalon, Quezon City, one of the women affected by typhoon Ondoy. (Photo by Ayi Muallam/

In August 2008,  a “joint country gender assessment” was released by Asian Development Bank, Canadian International Development Agency, European Union, United Nations Children’s Fund, United Nations Development Fund for Women, United Nations Population Fund, and the National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women. Titled “Paradox and Promise in the Philippines,” the report tackled issues that confront Filipino women and how the government is responding to these.

One of the areas discussed was “gender in disaster risk management.” Below are some excerpts from that part of the report:

Women and men are differently affected by natural disasters. For example, women are especially vulnerable to poor nutrition, vitamin and iron deficiency—especially anemia, which can be fatal in pregnancy. In times of disaster, there is an increased risk of unplanned pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections and unassisted childbirth. The stress and disruption of natural disasters often leads to increased incidents of sexual violence and domestic abuse. The breakdown of community norms and protection may lead to a rise in sexual exploitation. Women’s physiology makes them more vulnerable to HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. Rape increases this risk even further because abrasions and torn vaginal tissue increase the possibility of infection.

Desperate conditions and the loss of income may also force women and adolescents to exchange sex for food, shelter, protection, or money.

But when emergency strikes, women and men alike are forced to pool resources to ensure the survival of children, older relatives and the disabled. During armed conflict, men are frequently absent, meaning that women are solely responsible for ensuring the safety of children and the elderly. More than 75% of displaced persons affected by disasters are women and children. In the aftermath of a natural disaster or in refugee settings, basic tasks such as collecting water become challenging. Yet, the responsibility for  carrying them out often remains with women, despite their increased vulnerability.

In times of crisis, the particular strengths and vulnerabilities of women are often overlooked in the rush to provide humanitarian assistance. Most relief efforts respond to the overall population and are based on a patriarchal societal structure. Targeted support to women can be one of the best ways to ensure the health,  security, and well-being of families and entire communities.

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