(Wo)managing disaster in Nepal: the deadliest gender gap of all.

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INTRODUCING – (Wo)managing disaster in Nepal: a blog series on the impact of the earthquake on women and the role of gender during natural disasters

Over the past four months, we have provided 65,000 Nepalis with food, water, clothing, shelter and basic medical supplies since the first quake hit on April 25th. Pretty amazing for a little team of volunteers from Australia. But none of this would have been possible without you. Truly. You made this happen. To thank you for your unwavering support, we want to share with you a few things we’ve learned about coordinating a relief effort and what a small, but mighty, bunch of women can achieve when they have the backing of generous and committed supporters like you.

Ramechhap July 13 2015 #2

So here goes: (Wo)managing disaster in Nepal, our very own blog series on the unique and disproportionate ways women have been affected by the earthquake in Nepal. While we certainly are not experts in disaster management, and don’t claim to be, we want to share our experiences and be part of the conversation. We hope that you will too!

Over the next few weeks we will be looking at all things gender and natural disaster – from the importance of working with grassroots women’s organisations to utilising women’s knowledge in disaster management. We want you to know what it’s like to suddenly find yourself at the forefront of a crisis response and what you can do to support Nepali women and families as they rebuild their lives literally from the ground up long after this disaster has left the news headlines.  Let’s get started.

A major disaster like a 7.8 magnitude earthquake affects everyone—women, men, and children. But not everyone experiences those effects in the same way.

In fact, women are 14 times more likely than men to be killed by a natural disaster and indeed the evidence shows that, the worse the disaster, the bigger the disparity in deaths. Essentially, natural disasters are responsible for the deadliest gender gap of all.

But why the deadly gap?

Unfortunately, there is no one reason – that’d make things way too easy to fix. Rather, a lethal combination of biological differences, existing gender discrimination and subsequent poor crisis responses exacerbate existing inequalities and result in the disproportionate impact of natural disasters on women as well as other marginalised groups.

So what of sex?

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Natural disasters are exactly that – a disaster. There’s often no access to clean and running water, no working toilets, you have only the clothes on your back and very little privacy.

The lack of access to proper sanitation and hygiene products that are commonplace following a natural disaster often mean that urinary tract infections run rampant, women menstruate for days on end with no change of clothes or sanitary products and pregnant or lactating women are prone to infection and complications.

As you know, we came across lots of heavily pregnant women when we were delivering aid supplies in the districts with our grassroots partner, Women’s Foundation Nepal. These women, many of them first time mums, were faced with the prospect of giving birth under a tarp in a field because not only had their houses collapsed but the local health clinics were brought to the ground also. We couldn’t bear the thought of that, so here’s what we’re doing about it.

Sex refers to biologically assigned characteristics whereas gender refers to the set of socially constructed norms and expectations that are assigned to your sex. Gender roles and norms are culturally specific and change over time (often a helluva lot slower than we’d hope) but it is necessary to have a strong understanding of the different roles that men and women play in a society to effectively enact a gendered response to natural disaster.

 

What of gender?

Wherever they hit, pre-existing structures and social conditions determine that some will be less affected by a natural disaster while others will pay a higher price. Among the factors that determine how people are affected by such disasters is that of gender.

A woman’s familial roles are magnified by a disaster or emergency, with less support and resources to fulfil those roles. Women are significantly more vulnerable to disasters and therefore disproportionately affected by them.

Here’s how:

  • Generally speaking, women are more susceptible to injury or death during an earthquake than men because the gender roles traditionally ascribed to them mean they’re often at home and indoors.
  • In situations where food is scarce, women are often expected to serve men and boys first, which can pose nutritional risks for women.
  • Women and mothers are often responsible for keeping families together and taking care of the elderly, children, the sick and the injured. During times of crisis, their caring responsibilities skyrocket in line with the needs of those they care for. Yet they have less resources and support than normal to carry out these roles.
  • Women are mostly employed within the agricultural and informal sectors, which are often the worst affected by disasters. Therefore, loss of livelihoods and income as well as unemployment among women after a disaster are often very high.
  • Women’s limited access to assets, economic opportunities and education means that many women, especially in remote areas, cannot access resources and services for recovery.

June 3 GamchaGau #9

Of course many of the things that make women particularly vulnerable during disasters also present us with various opportunities to harness women’s traditional knowledge and skills during the recovery process. (Hint: one of our upcoming blogs will discuss exactly that!)

In next week’s blog we’ll take a look at the specific impact of the earthquake on women’s roles in Nepal, the rise in trafficking and gender-based violence during natural disaster and plenty more.

Thanks for tuning in and being part of the conversation!

Inspired to turn your compassion into action and support Nepali women to rebuild their lives? Here’s how.

 

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