Gender Equality and Disaster Risk Reduction

© Mohammad Fatemi / EPA
Woman receives medical attention after Iran Bushehr Earthquake 2013.

Natural disasters affect women, men, girls and boys differently. In fact, in many contexts, due to socio-economic conditions as well cultural beliefs and traditional practices, women and girls are more likely to be disproportionately affected by disasters, including through loss of life during and in the aftermath of disasters, loss of livelihoods and productive assets, and increased gender-based violence.

In many cases, women have limited access to formal disaster management mechanisms or to any kind of information and resources related to disaster preparedness and prevention. Furthermore, women’s accumulated skills, experiences and capabilities in times of natural catastrophes are often not adequately identified, recognized and promoted, as women’s participation in disaster risk reduction (DRR) decision-making processes at all levels throughout the world is particularly low. Hence, an effective gender-sensitive DRR strategy should both help take better into account women’s vulnerabilities in specific cultures without forgetting to highlight women’s potential and capabilities in order to prepare, confront, and recover from disasters. 

For some years now, the international community has recognized the need for, and has committed to, focus on gender equality and women’s empowerment in DRR. For instance, the Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015 (HFA), the global blueprint for DRR which came out of the 2005 World Disaster reduction Conference held in Japan, acknowledged the importance of the constructive role played by women in DRR. More recently, recommendations on gender-sensitive DRR and the promotion of a stronger role of women in building resilience were presented at the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Japan (14-18 March 2015) and incorporated into the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 adopted by UN Member States on 18 March 2015.

Projects and initiatives

UNESCO’s programme on disaster preparedness and prevention emphasizes the needs and roles of women in building a culture of disaster resilience.

Thus, the programme ensures gender mainstreaming in DRR efforts at all levels of action. It aims at increasing women’s participation and promoting a better recognition of their specific needs and roles:

  • in the design of international, regional and national policies and strategies to reduce local populations’ vulnerability to disasters,
  • in capacity building,
  • in the elaboration of education and general public awareness products, and
  • in advocacy for disaster preparedness and prevention. Efforts also focus on encouraging more gender-balanced representation within international and regional networks of experts on earthquakes, volcanoes, landslides as well as hydro-hazards.

Myanmar Education Recovery Programme

Following Cyclone Nargis in 2008, UNESCO developed the Myanmar Education Recovery Programme (MERP) in order to enhance the resilience of Myanmar’s education sector, through the integration of DRR and Emergency Preparedness into the education system. A total of 2,102 school principals and teachers from all affected schools in Myanmar have been trained in DRR, and 400,000 students benefitted from information and education communication materials on disasters.

This programme successfully mainstreamed gender in all of its activities, as most of the training participants were female teachers. Moreover, gender-sensitive communication materials on disaster risk reduction were distributed to the children and the local communities, highlighting the specific needs and roles played by women and girls in times of natural catastrophes.

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