Bringing a gender perspective to disaster risk finance can save lives and support recovery

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A Woman walk in high waters. Heavy rains caused floods in many areas around Bekasi
Photo: Tirta Ajie Irawan / Shutterstock

Global studies have shown that disasters – in general – often affect women harder than men. At a recent webinar on “Women in Risk Finance," I had the privilege of listening to accomplished women leaders share their perspectives and experiences on financial resilience in the face of natural disasters and how gender plays a critical role in a country’s climate and disaster risk finance (DRF) plans.  

Even after years of significant economic and social progress, women continue to face barriers in many areas. And when a natural disaster strikes, women tend to face life-threatening challenges, which could hamper both their economic and physical survival.

During the 2004 tsunami, for example, the ratio of surviving men to women was nearly 3:1 in Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and India. It is estimated that 80 percent of the people displaced by climate change are women. Women are also frequently excluded from social protection programs and financial services. Out of the 4 billion people unprotected globally, for example, only 26.3 percent  of working-age women are covered by a pension scheme, compared to 38.7 percent of working-age men. Further, women are also less likely than men to successfully raise emergency money, and more likely to rely on friends and family — both unreliable sources. Women also have lower levels of financial inclusion — they make up 55 percent of the world’s unbanked adults, meaning they have no access to financial services such as bank accounts or insurance, both of which can be important tools to build financial resilience and provide relief from disaster impacts.

Clearly, the impact of disasters is not gender-neutral, and gender plays a pivotal role in shaping a community’s vulnerability and exposure to catastrophic events. 

Women are primary caregivers for their families, and their vulnerability in the face of natural disasters has far-reaching consequences. In fact, failure to prioritize gender considerations is often at the heart of ineffective recovery and rehabilitation efforts, leaving women and their families to suffer the consequences and hampering nation-wide recovery by not fully harnessing the potential of both men and women in re-building the economy. 

Many of the world’s poorest women work informally in subsistence agriculture - women comprise 40–50 percent of the agricultural labor force in developing countries. These women are often among the most affected by climate change but their access to resources and participation in decision-making related to climate change adaptation is significantly limited. In the event of a climate-related emergency, women struggle to secure emergency funds and face higher information barriers than men. While mobile phones can provide valuable support in terms of receiving weather- and shelter-related information, cash transfers, or insurance payouts, 143 million fewer women than men in low and middle-income countries own a mobile phone, and women are 15 percent less likely to use mobile internet services.  

It is evident that climate change is wreaking havoc on our planet, causing an increase in the frequency and severity of natural disasters. This, coupled with the COVID pandemic, emphasizes the need for a more proactive approach to disaster risk finance. Systematically incorporating gender considerations by engaging women in our climate risk finance strategies will bring fresh perspectives and insights that can enhance the effectiveness and sustainability of our financial initiatives.  This will promote gender equality and social inclusion, while making policies and programs more responsive to the distinct needs of men and women.

Several innovative projects implemented by the World Bank currently address gender gaps in DRF, including an innovative parametric insurance mechanism in Latin America to support inclusive access to finance post-disaster, and an operation in the Horn of Africa that helps women gain access to livestock-related financial services.

 A Call to Action for Inclusive Disaster Risk Finance Strategies

In developing their disaster risk finance strategies, policymakers need to systematically incorporate gender considerations to minimize the impact of disasters on the entire population – men and women .  I am confident that involving women in decision-making processes will lead to better service delivery as incorporating gender considerations into policies isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s also smart economics that can lead to sustainable development and growth, as well as better, and faster post-disaster recovery.


Jean Pesme

Global Director of Finance

Kaavya Ashok Krishna

Senior Financial Sector Specialist

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