Global — A lethal gender gap causing women to die in natural disasters at up to 14 times the rate of men has sparked a Melbourne-based campaign to save lives by improving responses to catastrophes.
Australian not-for-profit The Global Women’s Project has found that women and girls are disproportionately affected by emergencies such as bushfires, earthquakes and tsunamis, due to entrenched gender inequalities.
In the aftermath of a disaster rape, child and women trafficking, maternal mortality rates and domestic violence all increase.
“Because of traditional gender roles of men as protectors, men need to feel like they’re saving their family and when they cannot do that they often suffer a crisis of masculinity,” said Carmen Hawker, general manager of the Global Women’s Project.
Women who survive but are widowed are more vulnerable and the stigma of being a single female, coupled with a lack of access to feminine hygiene products, mean many are reluctant to queue for emergency aid or seek medical treatment.
On Monday, the organisation, which supports women in developing countries, will hold The Disaster Agender, a forum to explore how authorities can provide a more gendered response to natural disasters.
Ms Hawker, 27, who was on the ground after the Nepal earthquake in April, helped establish a shelter for pregnant women and new mothers after learning that many were displaced, sleeping in the open with no access to birthing centres.
She said women and girls also lost their lives in greater numbers during the Asian tsunami because in many parts of the region only boys are taught how to swim or climb trees.
“For women in natural disasters it is a lethal combination of factors as well as existing gender inequalities that make for very poor response and costs lives.”
Deb Parkinson from the Gender and Disaster Pod, and Women’s Health in the North, will share her research into the aftermath of the Black Saturday bushfires, which saw increased rates of family violence exacerbated by grief, trauma and drug and alcohol abuse.
“For a lot of men being in control is part of the way we construct masculinity and they didn’t have control on Black Saturday. Often they lost their jobs so they didn’t have control over their workplace anymore so the one place that they thought they could exert control was within the home,” she said.
“One man said people would say, ‘Why haven’t you gone back to work, why haven’t you got the house rebuilt, why haven’t you got your family rehoused?’ So the expectations on men were really high and many felt that they should have done more to save people.”
Monday’s event will bring together humanitarian workers, academics and community members to discuss how to mitigate the increased risk of violence against women after natural disasters.
Former UN World Food Programme senior co-ordinator Christina Hobbs, who delivered emergency relief in Nepal, will deliver the keynote address, with all proceeds going towards disaster recovery.
“Violence against women affects one in three women globally and is both a key cause and consequence of gender inequality. We don’t want to see these numbers rise in Nepal following the earthquakes, which were already devastating enough.”