Published on Africa Can End Poverty

Enhancing gender-responsive disaster risk management: Why a change of mindset is the first step

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Améliorer la gestion des risques de catastrophes en tenant compte du genre : L?importance de changer l?approche (Photo : Katharine Vincent) Améliorer la gestion des risques de catastrophes en tenant compte du genre : L’importance de changer l’approche (Photo : Katharine Vincent)

Mortality rates from disaster occurrences are exponentially higher for women than for men. Some studies actually find that women and children are 14 times more likely than men to die when a disaster strikes. A new multi-disciplinary initiative is working with African Regional Economic Communities (RECs) to pioneer a new approach to disaster risk management that is gender responsive.

Why are there gender differences in disaster effects?

Disasters have different effects for men and women, reflecting gender inequalities—caused by socioeconomic conditions, cultural beliefs, and traditional practices that have repeatedly put women at a disadvantage.

The situation is made worse by climate change and environmental stresses that also intensify pre-existing developmental inequalities. These are especially true in poorer parts of the world, where women typically depend on subsistence agriculture—a sector highly dependent on weather conditions; while remunerated jobs are often the exclusive domain of men.

The systematic economic marginalization of women is also mirrored in the political sphere, where they are often excluded from decision-making processes and fora at multiple levels. This exclusion reinforces inequalities, as women’s voices and perspectives are not represented in decisions made on risk reduction and preparedness.

Yet we know that women have critical contributions to make towards disaster and climate risk management. The problem is that DRM efforts tend to be gender blind, set at a male default, which often leaves women and girls suffering greater consequences.

How are African regional economic communities pioneering gender-responsive DRM?

To address this, the World Bank team collaborated on a new approach with several regional economic communities in Africa. The goal was to make Disaster Risk Management “gender responsive” in a way that would resonate with key stakeholders across the continent.

As part of this work, hundreds of stakeholders were consulted—from government, academia, the private sector and NGOs. Recognizing the need to apply a gender lens was uniform, but so was the uncertainty on how this could be done effectively.

As a solution, the team used the globally-agreed Sendai framework for DRM and the African Union’s Gender Strategy, to ensure existing DRM plans are gender responsive: they applied a gender lens to all activities for prevention, preparedness, response and rebuilding after disaster strikes.

Across sub-Saharan Africa, RECs are already considering the unique needs of women and men to strengthen DRM activities…

  • Priority 1: Understanding disaster risk: The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) secretariat in Abuja has formed a team to collect gender disaggregated data after hazards from across member states.
  • Priority 2: Strengthening governance: At the fourth Ministerial Conference for Risk Reduction in Central Africa in Kinshasa, DRC, for the first time the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) convened DRM and gender focal points from member states. This enabled a substantive discussion between country practitioners in both Disaster Risk and Gender, and an informal list of key activity areas.
  • Priority 3: Investing in resilience: In their new Gender-Responsive DRM Strategy, the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) conducts a gender responsive regional risk profile—this will enable proposals to the Green Climate Fund.
  • Priority 4: Enhanced disaster preparedness for effective response and to “Build Back Better” in recovery: In response to cyclones Idai and Kenneth in 2019, Mozambique conducted gender responsive post-disaster needs assessments. This saved lives by providing women with sanitation services close to evacuation sites—reducing gender-based violence—and providing safe childbirth facilities.

What’s Next?

This shift in mind-set can be achieved by setting a positive example and ensuring that all projects benefit from gender-focused expertise. GFDRR can support this change in all its projects—from the design stage to implementation, monitoring and evaluation—streamlined through a gender lens.

This initiative is managed by the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) funded through the EU programme Resilience to Natural Hazards in Sub-Saharan African Regions, Countries and Communities Programme under the coordination of Prashant Singh in the Social, Urban, Rural and Resilience Practice.


Katharine Vincent

Climate change adaptation, disaster risk reduction and gender

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