Gendered terrain of disaster

By Madrileña de la Cerna |July 09,2016 - 09:45 PM

Women are especially hard-hit by the social impacts of environmental disasters. Global forces and social changes placing more people at greater risk of disaster also disproportionately impact women. Women are particularly vulnerable because they have fewer resources in their own right and under their own control. They have no permanent place in decision-making systems, and they suffer traditional, routine and gratuitous gender-biased oppression. With their lower economic, social and political status, women tend to be more vulnerable to disasters.

Women are more prone to depression and other emotional disturbances. This arises from inherent family instincts. Loss of shelter and family poses a tremendous pressure. They take the role of caretaker to family without paying attention to their own losses. Feeding the children or other family members becomes their first concern, and they immediately start getting involved in various activities. Thus, with trauma and stress added burden of duty and responsibility make the women more vulnerable to physical and emotional stress.

It is supposed that men are stronger both physically and emotionally, but it is evident that women are better capable of handling emotionally charged issues, physical pain and stress. Men think in the now, in present situation while women think more in the long term, big picture mode. When confronted with an emotional issue, women tend to look at how the resolution will affect those involved, while men usually look at the resolution itself as the end result. Men are more concrete thinkers, and women think on the emotional level due to differences in thought processes. Women are better equipped to psychologically handle emotional situations then men.

It has been noticed that women’s groups that participate in emergency relief, resettlement and reconstruction efforts following a natural disaster acquire significant knowledge and expertise that can greatly benefit communities that subsequently experience similar crises. When mechanisms are established for promoting the transfer of their knowledge from community to community, poor women are enabled to come out of their homes and form groups to assess their situation, organize and participate in the range of decisions and programs. If affected women can meet and benefit from the experiences of other women who have managed to deal successfully with disaster-related issues, much valuable time can be saved and mistakes avoided.
Gender issues must be urgently and effectively integrated into disaster research, planning and organizational practice. Women have a definite role to play in disaster relief and reconstruction activities. Consider this a new approach to disaster needs to be developed out, and disaster research, planning and practice should look into their vulnerabilities and requirements.

Although women’s social, economic and political position in society makes them more vulnerable to natural hazards, they are not helpless victims. Women are important agents for change and need to be further strengthened as such. Recognizing and mobilizing their skills and capacities as social force and channeling it to enhance efforts to protect their safety and that of their communities and dependents is a major task in any disaster reduction strategy.

There are many examples of women’s informal community involvement in disaster reduction, but women are still largely excluded from formal planning and decision-making need to be empowered to do effectively. This is essential to ensure effective disaster reduction policies.
Women have a special role to play in disaster relief because they are the single largest demographic group worst affected by natural and human-caused disasters. As a gender-sensitive approach in disaster management, there is a need for close interaction with communities in the planning process. It is important to align disaster management with best practices in gender inclusive governance, domestic as well as global. It is also effective to employ female relief workers and involve affected women in relief efforts/planning. There is a lot that women can do to aid the process of relief and rehabilitation. Traditional knowledge and skills of women can be used to manage natural resources, aid the injured and the sick, prepare community meals, and nurse displaced infants and children during reconstruction and recovery processes. With adequate training, capitalize on the cliched role of women as emotional nurturer in PTSD scenario in survivors.

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