When a disaster strikes, whether it is caused by a natural phenomenon such as a hurricane, earthquake, or man-made conflict, men and women are not affected in the same way. Society’s inequalities are likely to be exacerbated in a disaster, especially if gender is not properly understood as a factor.
The 2019 Human Development Report highlights that gender disparities remain among the most pressing forms of inequality in all countries and that gender inequality is one of the biggest obstacles to human development.
In this blog series, the Connecting Business Initiative (CBi) examines why such disparities are magnified in disasters and actions that stakeholders, including the private sector, can take to mitigate it.
What is sex?
Gender and gender are not the same, but they are usually confused. Sex refers to the biological characteristics related to males and females. Gender, on the other hand, is the cultural and social construct that defines the specific position, roles and responsibilities of males and females in society.
In other words, gender refers to the attitudes, feelings, and behaviors that a particular culture associates with a person’s biological sex. So the gender roles are learned.
Gender Impact on Disaster Management
Disasters don’t distinguish, but so is their impact. Looking at disaster deaths (see chart below), women are often disproportionately affected – and in some cases, they are nine times more likely to die. The graph shows data from seven disasters from Asia where data disaggregated by sex and age were available. The gender impact of disasters is context specific and has relevance to the general state of gender inequality in society. In disasters, it is important to have sex- and age-disaggregated data to know who is affected.
Why does gender affect the consequences of disasters? There are three main reasons.
First, we often deal with the data bias between the sexes. In the past few years, as awareness about gender bias has grown, many articles and talks have been undertaken highlighting how the world tends to have a structural bias towards men. Gender bias data treats men as the default and women as atypical – and it’s life-threatening, as the data not only describe the world, but are used to shape it.
One daily example is from the automotive industry. Cars continue to be designed according to common man’s dimensions, and crash dummies used in research to improve car safety are made in the shape of a man. Therefore, we have data on vehicle safety that has a strong gender bias in the data. As a result, women are 47% more likely to be seriously injured in a car accident than men – despite the fact that men are more likely to be involved in car accidents.
This also applies to disaster management: assets, and thus losses, are often recorded in the names of the family man, and interviews continue to assess damages and needs in the overrepresentation of household heads (men), despite the fact that often the man is the most absent person in the household. Hence it is not always the best person to represent the needs of the whole family. It also means that we often do not understand the impact on women, even if they are the ones affected the most.
In Early Warning Systems (EWS), for example, women and men can access, process, interpret and respond to alerts in different ways. However, alert communication tends to favor male facts and behaviors. For example, EWS increasingly prefers mobile devices, but is more affordable for men than women; The GSMA states in its recent report that the gender gap in mobile internet use in low- and middle-income countries remains large, with more than 300 million fewer women accessing the mobile Internet than men. Decreased access to education (and thus literacy), timing of the “standard” alert that often occurs when women are cooking or engaging in childcare activities, public responsibility for children or the elderly while responding to alerts, and communication alert that directs people to shelters even if Having no safeguards, it ignores women’s realities and disrupts women’s true access to standard EWS.
Second, gender inequality in society increases vulnerability to disasters, increases vulnerability to risk and constrains capacity, which often leads to a post-disaster poverty spiral and a widening poverty gap between women and men. Various structures of inequality, such as access to education, land ownership and the gender wage gap, contribute to poverty and disaster risk, as poverty, for example, pushes people to live in areas that may be exposed to floods or in buildings constructed with inferior housing materials. It is likely to be damaged in a hurricane or earthquake.
Third, women tend to be excluded from decision-making at all levels and have less decision-making power in most societies. However, women can be powerful agents of change and play a major role in building resilience within the family, community and economy.
What can be done to address gender inequality amplified by disasters?
The international community recognizes the importance of gender in disaster management, and gender is recognized as a key factor in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, and the humanitarian agenda.
To turn such frameworks into reality, all stakeholders – from governments to civil society, societies to the United Nations, academia to the private sector – all play a role.
Why is this important to the private sector?
Stay tuned for our next blog, where we will talk more about the role of the private sector, and ask questions such as:
Which sectors of the economy are most affected by disasters?
What is the role of micro, small and medium enterprises and the business sector in addressing poverty and making societies more resilient?
How can gender help companies be more disaster resilient?
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