Women in Disasters

As the world knows, recently Nepal was hit by 7.8 rector magnitude of devastating earthquake on 25th April, it has affected physical infrastructures, economic progress, political scenario and socially structures. Earthquakes are natural but it is not bias or discriminatory. As there is also existence of social patterns of discrimination, women and girls suffer a lot during disaster like earthquake. When disasters strike, they do not discriminate. Everyone, without exception in the disaster zone will be affected. The truth behind people realizing disasters are discriminatory is the existing gender inequalities.

As per the study and findings, natural disasters do not affect people equally. In fact, a vulnerability approach to disasters would suggest that inequalities in exposure and sensitivity to risk as well as inequalities in access to resources, capabilities and opportunities systematically disadvantage certain groups of people, rendering them more vulnerable to the impact of natural disaster.

Biological and physiological differences between the sexes are unlikely to explain large scale gender differences in mortality rates. Social norms and gender role behaviors provide some further explanation, but what is likely to matter most is the everyday socioeconomic states of women. Natural disasters on average kill women more than that of men or kill women at an earlier age than men.

Women and men experience disasters differently. This is due to social and cultural reasons and existing gender norms rather than biological ones. As gender norms vary by country and culture, in some extends men may be more vulnerable because of their risk taking behaviors. However, women and girls tend to have less access to or control over assets, including the resources necessary to cope with hazardous events, such as information, education, health and wealth, their vulnerability is in general relatively greater than men. it is inequalities in the everyday, that create greater risk and reduce life chances for women and girls. Thus action across the gender disaster development nexus is key to creating lasting change and resilience. Another key measure is material loss. This is generally measured as loss of infrastructure, service and trade. Household loss, apart from housing and agricultural land, is seldom measured. As men tend to hold title of both, it is male losses that are recorded; those experienced by women, such as the loss of kitchen utensils and appliances, sewing machines and small animals, one seldom assessed, rendering them invisible.The poverty implications for women through loss of their productive assets, of their increased time spent in domestic/reproductive work post event, and their increased dependency on male incomes, and the longer- term implications for girls arising from loss of education and future earnings, are largely measured and thus unknown.

According to the 2011 census figures, the 14 districts most affected by 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck on 25 April (Bhaktapur, Dhading, Dolkha, Gorkha, kavre, Kathmandu, lalitpur, Nuwakot, Ramechhap, Rasuwa, Sindhupalchow, Makwanpur, Sinduli and Okhaldhunga) approximately:

  • 2,710,239 women (50.5% of total population)
  • 326,943 female-headed households (26.5% of all households)
  • 39,987 women with disabilities
  • 163,043 women aged 65 and over (6% of total female population)
  • 764,226 girls aged 14 or under (28% of total female population)
  • 794,529 illiterate women (29% of total female population).
  • In the Gorkha district, the epicentre of the earthquake, the ratio of households that are headed by women is as high as one-third.

Approx. 55% of casualties identified as female – 8,604 people (4,726 female, 3,834 male, 44 bodied unidentified).

According to UN estimates outlined in the Flash Appeal approximately:

  • 3.2 million women are among the population affected by protection concerns.
  • 525,000 are women of reproductive age
  • 126,000 pregnant women
  • 21,000 of whom will need obstetric care in the coming three months.
  • 40,000 women are at immediate risk of gender-based violence.

Sex-disaggregated district-level data received so far shows that women are among the majority of the earthquake affected populations:

  • Kavre: 46 boys, 58 girls, 86 men and 123 women have died.
  • Sindhupalchok: 92 boys, 84 girls, 384 men and 592 women have died.
  • Rasuwa: 251 cases revealed that 62% of deaths and 59% of injured were women.
 Women are typically more vulnerable than men, especially in patriarchal societies, due to issues of personal safety and violence and access to scarce resources. Therefore, when a calamity strikes, the situation is accentuated.“In calamities, you’ll see the best of humankind for the first few days. And then slowly, as the struggle looms large that you’re going to be without shelter and livelihood, that’s when a lot of conflicts occur,” Iyengar said. “At such times, women are vulnerable to different forms of trafficking and exploitation.”

A report by the UK department of international development refers to this as “double disaster,” where indirect or secondary impacts make life worse for women. But some efforts are being made to address the disparity.

Flipping the situation

In Nepal, the plight of thousands of pregnant women is being given particular attention. The UN Population Fund, for example, is distributing hygiene and reproductive health kits.

Such efforts have in the past been shown to have a two-fold benefit. Not only are the lives of women improved, but many of them then get involved in relief activities. Local women, for instance, are the most effective at mobilizing their communities.

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