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Three reflections on gender in disaster risk management

Source(s):  World Bank, the (WB)

By Alvina Erman and Maitreyi Bordia Das

Gender matters. The World Bank Group is raising the bar on gender equality, by emphasizing outcomes and monitoring results of its interventions in client countries. So, what does this mean for our work in disaster risk management (DRM)?

To mark International Women’s Day, we talked to Claudia Soto and Jana El-Horr, who are leading World Bank projects in Haiti and Madagascar, respectively. We wanted to find out how and why they considered gender when designing projects for strengthening resilience to natural hazards. This year, the conversation felt particularly relevant as we contend with the COVID-19 crisis, which is disproportionately affecting women and girls around the world.

From a project on disaster preparedness in Haiti to another supporting resilient livelihoods in Southern Madagascar, Claudia and Jana oversee projects in challenging fragile and conflict environments that are also highly vulnerable to natural hazards and climate shocks.

This is what we learned.

1. Gender is not about women in isolation. Women are connected to other members of society. To address priorities for women, you have to work with the whole community.

The project in Madagascar is a case in point. Frequent disasters and extreme poverty in Southern Madagascar have created a cyclical humanitarian crisis. Women are identified as a particularly vulnerable group. But drivers of vulnerability do not exist in isolation. Assessments carried out as part of preparation clearly concluded that To improve women’s empowerment, livelihoods, gender-based violence; the project needed to involve other key members in the community - elderly people, spouses, and the youth.

Understanding gender is about understanding women in relation to others in the society.

2. Considering gender is not about doing more but doing better. Integrating gender aspects in project preparation is often seen as extra work. When time is of the essence, as in the case of emergency projects, for example, gender may end up low on the list of competing priorities.

Yet, considering gender in project design is not about doing more. It is about asking the right questions. Whether it is in conversations with government officials on post disaster data collection or when preparing prototypes for design of multi-hazard shelters. In the case of the project in Haiti, asking the right questions from the start is ensuring that women’s and girls’ safety and needs are considered in public shelter design. This was one of the measures taken to address the gender gaps in shelter use which were identified as part of a broader behavioral study on evacuation.

3. Gender is not about ticking a box. It is essential for good project design. Understanding drivers of gendered differences in disaster impacts is an opportunity for better policy design.

A country that has experienced a deadly disaster may be tempted to invest in more expensive and sophisticated technology and models to be able to predict the next hazard with more accuracy. However, evidence shows that when more women than men die in a disaster it tends to be because of lack of information, inadequate access to safe havens and or the absence of agency to make decisions. This has been observed in Bangladesh, Indonesia and Nepal. In some places, investing in expanding early warning coverage, safety and management of shelters, as well as promoting participation and leadership of women in DRM, may be resources better spent to lower the mortality rate from disasters.

There are benefits of considering gender in project design, but there are still some challenges. A big concern is the lack of tools and consistent framework to assess gender gaps in the context of DRM. To address this, Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery’s (GFDRR) new report Gender Dimensions of Disaster Risk and Resilience presents an operationally useful framework on gender dynamics of disaster impacts. To learn more about the gender and DRM, access full report here.

By understanding what drives different outcomes of disasters for women and girls, we can partner with countries to find lasting ways to make gender an integral part of designing and implementing key measures for resilient, inclusive and sustainable societies.



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  • Publication date 08 Mar 2021

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