Women are acknowledged as a significantly vulnerable group in the face of climate-induced disasters, with international frameworks such as Sendai making specific reference to them being disproportionately affected. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has reported that the death toll of women in climate-induced disasters is almost always much higher than that of men. Women face a whole spectrum of issues: from being at a greater risk of drowning during a flood, because in some societies women are not given swimming lessons, to having to be responsible for the whole family when the home has been destroyed. These issues are positioned within long-standing gender inequalities. Furthermore, in many instances women have reduced access to resources and are often less able to participate in decision-making activities which contribute to all stages of the Disaster Management Cycle.
One of the greatest vulnerabilities that women face in the context of disasters is gender-based violence, particularly within emergency camps. Such was the case in Myanmar after Cyclone Nargis. This is often associated with a collapse of the normal security structures that exist within society to protect them, as well as predatory, exploitative figures playing on the destitution of the situation.
International Disaster Law places the state as the main actor to protect its citizens in the case of disasters. This becomes problematic when women are already marginalised within their society and therefore will be overlooked when it comes to relief efforts, as well as in instances where the government collapses completely, such as in the case of Haiti.
So what can be done to reduce the vulnerability of women in these situations? More work needs to be done to empower women and increase their agency so that they are able to participate in informing decisions which contribute to the disaster management cycle, as well as providing adequate relief efforts that acknowledge the specific struggles that women face.
In the wake of the #MeToo movement and the recent global push for gender equality, I believe that there is hope of reducing the vulnerabilities faced by women in disasters. In the setting of climate change as a whole, the specific interactions with women and climate need to be better recognised.
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