Disasters and their effects on women are not often explored or discussed. Many of us, our friends and families, are being affected. After doing my research, there is no doubt that women are more affected by disasters than men.
For example, after Cyclone Nargis in 2008, 61 percent of fatalities in Myanmar were women. Sisterhood Agenda experienced its own natural disaster when Hurricane Irma damaged its SEA: Sisterhood Empowerment Academy in the Virgin Islands in 2017. The SEA is still recovering.
Why do women get more affected in a disaster than men?
There are several reasons why women are more affected than men.
In some cultures where women’s wardrobes are limited to a long covered dress, it is difficult for them to swim in an event of a Tsunami or flood.
Furthermore, there is also a lack of knowledge about swimming and other life skills.
Some cultural beliefs teach communities that a women’s only task is to take care of the household, and that’s it.
After surviving, women are also at a higher risk for post-disaster exploitation.
For example, in the Philippines in 1941, when the Philippine forces waved their white flag against the Japanese, Manila was under Japanese military rule.
As a result, Several Fiipina women were raped some of them repeatedly, whereas they are treated as comfort women.
This is similar to the Haiti earthquakes in 2010, where women and children as young as 2 years old became victims to sexual violence in earthquake relief housing camps.
Sex-for-food was also not uncommon in the Haiti earthquake camps.
These are just some of the effects on women and girls. Here’s more:
What are the effects of disasters on women?
Higher mortality rate
Too often, social and cultural traditions limit women’s mobility to save and defend themselves.
According to studies, the ratio of women who die in disasters compared to men is 14:1.
Women and children who don’t swim or climb trees are the ones who die in cyclones and tsunamis.
In addition, defenseless women and children were working at home when disasters struck while the husbands did their work in fields.
Furthermore, women need awareness about disaster preparedness. Currently, this usually does not occur when women only stay at home to take care of the household.
Women are more prone to urinary tract infections because of menstruation.
Following a disaster, an affected family often lives temporarily on an evacuation center or shelter.
Given the intensity of the emergency situation, women are usually not provided with sanitary and secure toilets, including washing facilities.
For example, if a woman has her period and there is no access to clean water, not being able to wash with clean water could lead to infections quickly.
Following a disaster, some evacuation centers and shelters lack privacy and security.
The Haiti earthquake in 2010 led to one of the worst cases of sexual violence after a disaster.
Girls as young as two were victims of sexual violence. Acoording to those who answered a survey , 14% say a family member was a victim of sexual violence following an earthquake.
For survival reasons, some women resort to sex for money due to hunger and threat of starvation.
Prostitution and human trafficking
In Nepal, thousands of women and girls are victims of human trafficking every year. They are often en route to brothels in India.
Human trafficking of girls and sexual slavery gets worse after a disaster. Traffickers pose as aid workers and then kidnaps the girls to sell them.
Pregnancy and labor complications
After a disaster, you would expect hospitals to be full of patients. However, in most cases, the hospital itself is hit by a calamity, resulting in a lack of electricity and running water.
In the event of an earthquake or flooding, women lose access to proper care such as reproductive health care and delivery services.
Without access to medical facilities, women could face potentially fatal complications such as fetal stress, obstructive labor, infections, sepsis, and even death.
Several women who are in labor during the Nepal earthquake gave birth at the hallways of the hospital.
There are even women who gave birth outside the hospital lying on a yoga mat in the grass.
Medical solutions to pregnancy complications and procedures such as c-section delivery require sterile environments and general anesthesia, nonexistent after a disaster.
What can we do to help?
In a study done by the Office of the United Nations Disaster Relief Coordinator, they established several factors such as including women in disaster planning:
- Effective community development and active involvement of women can enhance the potential effectiveness of disaster prevention.
- If women are aware of disaster preparedness, they can asses vulnerabilities.
- Furthermore, women should be included in decision-making in an event of a disaster.
- Proper education for survival skills, such as swimming, should be taught in rural and coastal areas.
- In an event of a disaster, we should go the extra mile and make sure that women and girls have their own comfortable rooms with clean running water.
- To add, we should also assess their needs as women, such as sanitary pads, tampons, prenatal vitamins.
Just this January 12, 2020, a volcanic eruption happened in Taal, Batangas Philippines where thousands of houses are buried in volcanic ash.
Thousands of families now are living in evacuation centers and they need all the help they can get. Such as masks, medicines, blankets, used clothes and food. You may donate to Taal victims here.
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