The direct and indirect impacts of disasters are experienced differently by people due to a number of reasons, among them socioeconomic conditions, cultural beliefs and available resources, but women and girls are particularly affected because of gender roles, existing structural inequalities and power relations. In fact, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported that gender has been identified as one of the main factors that determine the overall experience of climate-related migration and displacement.
This year’s International Women’s Day provides an opportunity to highlight the challenges migrant and displaced women and girls face as a result of climate change.
Women and girls are often negatively affected before, during and after a disaster hits. Pre-disaster, women’s and girls’ unequal access to economic, political and social resources influences their access to post-disaster assistance and compensation for damage and losses. For example, after the 2010 flooding in Pakistan, many women were unable to move or migrate due to familial and financial assistance, which in turn prevented or limited their access to aid, either food assistance or medical services. In the aftermath of disasters, women and girls are also subject to indirect impacts such as gender-based violence (GBV), early and forced marriages, loss of livelihoods, deterioration in health, and increased workload.
Key to ensuring gender-sensitive response and recovery for migrant and displaced women and girls in disaster contexts is collecting, analysing and disseminating gender-disaggregated data regularly. The collection of gender-differentiated data not only sheds light on the complex realities of the differing and interdependent roles but also provides vital information for developing more comprehensive, efficient, and relevant response and recovery strategies, in addition to formulating more effective policies.
IOM’s Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM), which gathers and analyses data on the mobility, vulnerabilities and needs of displaced and mobile population, has been implementing data collection exercises in various disaster contexts to support with the development of gendered assistance in pre- and post-disaster interventions.
For example, in response to Tropical Cyclone Harold in 2020, DTM Vanuatu collected sex- and age-disaggregated data (SADD) from key informants and conducted in-depth interviews with households. Indicators of the affected population included previous experiences of displacement caused by environmental disasters, single-headed households, safety and security concerns, and protection issues. In assessments by DTM Vanuatu between 26 May and 6 June 2020, child marriages were reported in 46 locations. The primary reasons cited for the prevalence of child marriages included cultural practices, exchange of land, money and to retain family lineage.
Coping mechanisms that negatively impact women and girls are further confirmed in a needs assessment conducted by Mercy Corps in Karamoja, Uganda, which revealed that harmful practices, including domestic violence, child marriage, courtship rape, and female genital mutilation, spiked during droughts and prolonged dry spells.
In assessments conducted by DTM Burundi between May 2021 and July 2021 with 122,483 internally displaced persons (IDPs) – 84 per cent of whom reported the reason for their displacement was environmental disasters – in 27,300 households, the majority of displaced households surveyed (76%) stated that wood collection areas were places where women and girls felt most at risk of experiencing GBV, as they have to walk further to collect wood. Additionally, 49 per cent of displaced households indicated that women and girls could not safely report violence and that survivors of GBV had difficulty accessing specialized services.
And in the Philippines, DTM conducted a rapid needs assessment from 12-21 January 2022 in response to Typhoon Rai to better understand the needs and gaps of IDPs in 85 evacuation sites across 22 municipalities in the provinces of Bohol, Cebu, Southern Leyte and Surigao del Norte. It was reported that 95 per cent of sites did not have a women-friendly space nor a breastfeeding area, and only 47 per cent of sites had child-friendly spaces. Additionally, even though 74 per cent of toilets/latrines were secured with locks, 87 per cent did not have proper lighting. Proper lighting is crucial in preventing GBV while safe spaces are essential in helping women and girls cope with disasters.
These findings by DTM raise protection, safety and security concerns. They further highlight the importance of collecting gender-disaggregated data as gender plays a role in the different basic needs in response and recovery periods of a disaster – information on the distinct experiences and vulnerabilities of women and girls and their other intersecting characteristics is crucial. In the disaster context, the outcomes for women and men are influenced by their intersectional identities in society. Women and men play different roles due to their age, social class, ethnicity, among others, which result in different identifiers, responsibilities, expectations, values, experiences and skills, that can lead to gender imbalances in disaster risk reduction, response and recovery efforts.
As climate change continues to intensify, environmental migration and disaster displacement will likely increase. In 2020, 7 million people had been displaced by disasters. During the past year, new displacements due to climate change were reported by DTM. In assessments conducted in March and April 2021 in Ethiopia, 589,195 people were displaced due to floods and droughts across the country. As of September 2021, over 113,408 individuals were displaced across Burundi, most of whom (83%) were uprooted due to disasters, while in South Sudan, the vast majority (99.8%) of IDPs indicated that flooding was the main reason for their displacement.
With the anticipated rise in climate-related migration and displacement, better data is necessary to raise awareness of the disproportionate impact on women and girls in disaster contexts and in ensuring gender-sensitive response and recovery. Better data can help ensure that disaster response and recovery efforts do not exacerbate vulnerabilities and support in the development of gender-responsive policies. It can provide an intersectional understanding of disaster risk and a foundation to reduce differential impact, ensuring no one is left behind.
But there is still more work to be done. As it stands, there is a lack of gender-disaggregated data in disaster contexts. To provide assistance that considers the needs of all, gender-disaggregated data must be at the centre of response and recovery strategies.