Published on Sustainable Cities

Why we need to integrate gender equality and women’s empowerment in disaster recovery – and how to do it!

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Did you know that women, girls, men and boys are often affected differently by disasters? While natural hazards make no distinction as to who they strike, underlying “man-made” vulnerabilities – such as gender inequality caused by socioeconomic conditions, social norms, cultural beliefs and traditional practices – can leave some groups much worse off than others. Disasters harm all, but they often disproportionally affect women and girls because of their lower access to political, economic and social resources as well as social and cultural gender-specific expectations and norms.
In fact, women’s and girls’ disaster mortality tends to be higher than that of men and boys.  Case in point: Four times as many women than men were killed in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and India during the 2004 tsunami. A big reason for this is that men learned how to swim and climb trees at young ages, while women did not. And 90% of the victims of the 1991 cyclone in Bangladesh were women, because social and cultural norms restricted their mobility. Beyond this direct impact, women and girls are also subject to indirect impacts in the aftermath of disasters including loss of livelihoods, increase in workload, rise of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), deterioration in sexual and reproductive health, loss of education for girls and limited access to post-disaster remedies and compensation.
When it comes to post-disaster action, unfortunately, there are too many instances where recovery efforts have failed women and girls by not considering their needs and capacities in recovery planning and thereby reinforcing and even increasing existing gender inequalities. Governments and disaster risk management (DRM) practitioners have a responsibility to reach, protect and empower women, girls, men and boys before, during and in the aftermath of disasters. Not only because it is the right thing to do but because doing so will make the recovery process more effective and efficient. The good news is: Good examples of gender-inclusive disaster recovery do exist.
The Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), the World Bank, UN Women, the International Recovery Platform and the European Commission recently issued a note that captures best practice examples for gender-responsive recovery and provides guidance for how to empower women and advance gender equality in a post-disaster recovery context. In a nutshell, government officials and the stakeholders charged with planning and implementing the recovery should:

1. Identify and prioritize gender-specific recovery needs 
Too often, post-disaster assessment (PDA) data does not capture the distinct losses and damages, needs, roles, responsibilities, and capacities of women and men, boys and girls. The collection and analysis of sex- age, and disability disaggregated data is therefore a critical first step to efficiently identify and prioritize gender-responsive recovery needs. The data collection and analysis require communication and consultation with affected women, men, boys and girls through inclusive and participatory techniques. This can be facilitated through partnering with local civil society organizations with an established presence in affected communities. 
2. Take action to protect women, men, boys and girls from physical and psychosocial harm 
SGBV typically increases in the aftermath of disasters. To successfully protect women, girls, men and boys, their physical and psychosocial integrity also needs to be secured in the longer-term recovery phase. This can be done by integrating safety concerns (such as separate sanitation facilitates for males and females) into the design and construction of temporary settlements, houses, schools, clinics and other infrastructure; by developing policies and enforcement mechanisms so that perpetrators of SGBV are legally held accountable for their actions and by providing counselling that targets especially vulnerable groups, such as SGBV survivors. After the 2015 earthquake in Nepal, several multipurpose centers were established by the Government, UN Women and women’s groups that reached over 40.000 women with a wide range of services such as psychosocial counselling and legal referrals for survivors of SGBV. 
3. Use the disaster recovery framework to plan a gender-inclusive recovery 
By systematically presenting the policy, institutional, financial, and operational aspects of a disaster recovery program, recovery frameworks can play a key role in assisting governments and partners in planning for resilient and inclusive post-disaster recovery. To effectively reach, protect and empower women, girls, boys and men, actions that promote gender equality and women’s empowerment need to be integrated in every aspect of the framework and across each sector.

4. Empower women for sustainable and resilient recovery 
The empowerment and leadership of women should be at the core of resilient recovery efforts. There is a need to shift the focus on women’s vulnerability towards an emphasis on their capabilities and underleveraged leadership potential. Women’s skills, knowledge about their communities and contributions should be acknowledged and leveraged by formally allocating roles and responsibilities to them. This can be done by engaging women in recovery planning and implementation, developing their capacity to become recovery leaders, and by protecting and promoting their livelihoods.  
5. Strengthen gender-responsive recovery systems 
We cannot reach, protect and empower women, girls, men and boys equally without investing in ex-ante actions that promote gender equality and women’s empowerment in policy actions and community engagement. This includes the active participation of women and girls throughout all the phases of the DRM cycle, from training women on community based early warning systems to elevating women to decision-making roles in community DRM committees.
If you want to know more about these five critical steps, please check out our guidance note and watch our video interview on this critical publication. The note provides further guidance on how to reach, protect and empower women, girls, men and boys in disaster recovery efforts. Integrating gender equality and women’s empowerment in post-disaster recovery will not only contribute to more efficient and effective recovery, it will also establish opportunities for women and communities to build resilient societies and contribute to sustainable development -  a win-win for all.
Related Links


Cindy Patricia Quijada Robles

Disaster Risk Management Specialist GFDRR’s Social Resilience Program

Rahel Steinbach

Programme Specialist, Disaster Risk Reduction and Humanitarian Action at UN Women

Melody Benavidez

Senior Urban Resilience Consultant in the Global Urban and Rural Resilience Unit

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