Women and girls are exposed to more violence, including intentional homicide, during disasters, like floods, cyclones or the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in central, south, east and southeast Asia. Women have become vulnerable to trafficking in India in areas often affected by floods and cyclones such as West Bengal and Odisha.
According to the United Nation’s (UN) Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction 2022 (GAR 2022), released earlier this week, there is a “strong correlation between the number of people affected by disaster and the number of female victims of intentional homicide”. Besides, additional socioeconomic and psychological stresses of disasters on affected people increase vulnerability through indirect social impacts.
Stressing the global rise in gender-based violence during disaster displacement and slow-onset disasters, especially in Asia and the Pacific, the report pointed out that disasters also fuel human trafficking. “An analysis of available SDG data demonstrates a strong relationship between disaster affectedness and the number of detected female victims of human trafficking in all regions except Northern Africa, Western Asia and Oceania.”
Highlighting a “shadow pandemic” of gender-based violence globally during the pandemic, GAR 2022 said that a recent study on the impact of lockdowns and the resultant economic losses on urban populations in four Latin American cities found a “high correlation between these stresses and violence within the home as well as depression and anxiety, affecting women and people of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities”
The report also mentioned how gender-differentiated impacts of disasters and the social responses to them can fuel gender inequality, especially in access to economic resources, “leading to greater impoverishment and less resilience to future disasters”.
The UN pointed to a recent study in Bangladesh on the economic dimension of women’s vulnerability during cyclones that identified seven common challenges: increased unemployment, decreased livelihood options and increased poverty; increased food insecurity; loss of property; girls dropping out of education; early marriage; migration; and long-term displacement. The report identified the first four challenges as “immediate” and the remaining “indirect and long-lasting”.
When formal programmes focus on jobs mainly done by men and fail to recognise women’s livelihood in the informal sector or the uninsured losses they sustain from food gardens, fishing and farming, it leads to gender disparity in employment, the report added.
Listing the gender pay gap as a key global challenge, DAR 2022 said, “Women receive on average 15% lower pay than men and thereby have fewer economic resources to build resilience and recover from shocks. This is compounded by women’s reduced personal access to ready finances in emergencies, which is on average 10% lower than that of men.”
The report suggested reducing poverty, which will increase “disaster resilience” and also have “strong positive associations with removing gender-based inequalities”. Since women have less access to economic resources and roles in work, family and public life, the gender difference in resilience to disasters and climate change is greater. “While women as a group are not innately more vulnerable than men, gender inequalities contribute to their disproportionate risk,” it said.
Despite playing a crucial role, according to the UN, in scaling up disaster preparedness, bringing a wealth of knowledge, capacities and needs-based approaches to decision-making, “women are one of the most vulnerable sections of the population”, the report concluded