Why gender data is essential for disaster risk management

When disasters strike, men and women have distinct needs and feel their impact differently, and policy makers need data to respond effectively, write Sonia Akter and Madhavi Pundit.

The frequency and intensity of disasters triggered by natural hazards are increasing worldwide, with Asia and the Pacific being particularly vulnerable – more than 57 million people in the region have been affected in one way or another by climate-related disasters in 2021.

In recent weeks alone, ongoing floods in Bangladesh and India that have killed more than 100 people and displaced millions, and a catastrophic earthquake in Afghanistan have killed and injured thousands, showing the destructive force that nature can exert on communities.

While natural hazards pose a threat to the lives and livelihoods of all those unlucky enough to be in the line of fire, women and children face different, and often more detrimental, consequences in disaster.

Men and women have distinct needs and diverse roles and responsibilities within households and communities. Due to structural gender inequalities that give women a lower social status than men and can restrict their mobility outside the home, women also have less access to effective support structures in many cases.

Decision makers are beginning to recognize how disasters affect men and women differently, and the importance of gender plans – such as in the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, a globally recognized disaster risk management plan.

Nevertheless, they do not place enough emphasis on implementing gender-responsive policies and programs – especially based on nuanced data and information.

As a result, gaps in gender and gender information become gaps in policy responses to disaster. When disaster risk management programs do not sufficiently take gender into account, women and girls bear a disproportionately greater burden of the impact of disaster, both in the short and long term.

Pre-existing gender gaps in health and nutrition, education, mobility, safety and security, violence, and access to employment, finance and to technology widen in the wake of disasters. This can entrench inequalities and reduce resilience to future disasters, creating a vicious cycle.

First, policymakers need to track gender-specific impacts and needs during a disaster. This requires gender-specific primary data collection in the field.

But what is gender data?

Not to be confused with sex-disaggregated data, which is information collected separately for men and women, sex-specific data is information about the specific needs of men and women.

For example, a survey can collect sex-disaggregated data on food insecurity by including questions on dietary intake separately for men and women. Questions about the dietary intake of pregnant and lactating women, however, would be sex-specific data. This type of data is more relevant to addressing the needs of women and girls during disasters.

Admittedly, collecting this data can be challenging, as access to respondents can be impeded when critical infrastructure is disrupted. There may also be physical, cultural, psychological, social and gender barriers that may prevent women from disclosing certain information.

However, a carefully designed data collection tool can overcome most of these challenges.

By identifying key areas that specifically affect women’s risk, vulnerability and resilience – categorized into sexual and reproductive health, education, paid work, food and nutrition security, basic needs, control of assets and exposure to violence – a survey that are short, simple, direct and quickly mobilized can be extremely effective in providing information on women’s needs.

This information would then be used by development agencies or governments to make disaster response more effective for affected women.

Rapid assessment tools in the area of ​​food security can also provide ideas for innovation.

The Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index, for example, was developed by the International Food Policy Research Institute to track the impact of development programs on empowerment, agency and inclusion of women, but is not intended for emergency situations.

The World Food Program and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations also have rapid food security assessment tools, including the Food Consumption Score and the Coping Strategies Index, which are commonly used to monitor food security in emergencies – a similar tool could be used for gender assessments. disastrous response.

RResearchers, policy makers and development agencies must urgently promote, develop and implement a gender framework.

Whatever the tool to do so, the gap in disaster management frameworks needs to be filled with gender-disaggregated data that answers relevant questions and is easy to gather. Such a tool can support other initial rapid assessments, as well as help chart the path to recovery as agencies roll out their responses in an increasingly disaster-ravaged world.

Melvin B. Baillie