Enhancing gender-responsive disaster risk management: why a change of mindset is the first step


By Emily Brearley, Thembi Kumapley, and Katherine Vincent

Mortality rates from disaster occurrences are exponentially higher for women than for men. Some studies actually find that women and children are 14 times more likely than men to die when a disaster strikes. To mitigate the casualties and inequalities, the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) set up a multi-disciplinary disaster-risk-management (DRM) gender team to collaborate on developing a new approach with African Regional Economic Communities (RECs). The result, after extensive stakeholder consultations, is a new approach to disaster risk management that is gender-responsive.

Why are there gender differences in disaster effects?

Disasters have different effects for men and women, reflecting gender inequalities—caused by socioeconomic conditions, cultural beliefs, and traditional practices that have repeatedly put women at a disadvantage. The situation is made worse by climate change and environmental stresses that also intensify pre-existing developmental inequalities. These are especially true in poorer parts of the world, where women typically depend on subsistence agriculture—a sector highly dependent on weather conditions; while remunerated jobs are often the exclusive domain of men.

The systematic economic marginalization of women is also mirrored in the political sphere, where they are often excluded from decision-making processes and fora at multiple levels. This exclusion reiterates inequalities, as women’s voices and perspectives are not represented in decisions made on risk reduction and preparedness.

Yet, we know that women have critical contributions to make towards disaster and climate risk management. The problem is that DRM efforts tend to be gender blind, set at a male default, which often leaves women and girls suffering greater consequences.

How are African regional economic communities pioneering gender-responsive DRM?

To address this, the World Bank and GFDRR, supported a multi-disciplinary team of sector experts and economists specialising in gender, to collaborate on a new approach with several regional economic communities in Africa. The goal was to make Disaster Risk Management “gender-responsive” in a way that would resonate with key stakeholders across the continent.

As part of this work, hundreds of stakeholders were consulted—from government, academia, the private sector and NGOs. Recognising that the need to apply a gender lens was uniform, but so was the uncertainty on how this could be done effectively.

As a solution, the team used the globally agreed upon Sendai framework for DRM and the African Union’s Gender Strategy, to ensure existing DRM plans are gender-responsive: they applied a gender lens to all activities for prevention, preparedness, response and rebuilding after disaster strikes. Across sub-Saharan Africa, many countries are already considering the unique needs of women and men to strengthen DRM activities, for example:

  • Priority 1:Understanding disaster risk: The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) secretariat in Abuja has formed a team to collect gender-disaggregated natural hazards data from across member states.

  • Priority 2: Strengthening governance: At the fourth Ministerial Conference for Risk Reduction in Central Africa in Kinshasa, DRC, for the first time the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) convened DRM and gender focal points from member states. This enabled a substantive discussion between country practitioners in both Disaster Risk and Gender and an informal list of key activity areas.

  • Priority 3: Investing in resilience: In their new Gender-Responsive DRM Strategy, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) conducts a gender-responsive regional risk profile—this will enable proposals for targeted Green Climate Funds.

  • Priority 4: Enhanced disaster preparedness for effective response and to “Build Back Better” in recovery: In response to cyclones Idai and Kenneth in 2019, Mozambique conducted gender-responsive post-disaster needs assessments. This saved lives by providing women with sanitation services close to evacuation sites—reducing gender-based violence—and providing safe childbirth facilities.

What’s Next?

This shift in mindset can be achieved by setting a positive example and ensuring that all projects benefit from gender-focused expertise. GFDRR can support this change in all its projects—from the design stage to implementation, monitoring and evaluation—streamlined through a gender lens.

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