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Women, Disaster Reduction and Sustainable Development

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Disasters affect women and men differently; women are often worse off than men as a result of disasters and benefit less from processes of reconstruction. Disaster-reduction which aims to increase resilience to natural hazards must reflect the fact that social and economic contexts will largely dictate the magnitude of a disaster and its effects. These contexts contain gender differences and inequalities which will influence particular groups' capacity to cope. The gendered division of labour for example, will influence income generation, care work and decision-making in the aftermath of disaster and cultural norms may create problems accessing emergency shelter. The loss of family support networks can make women, the elderly and children more vulnerable and disasters frequently see a rise in female-headed households. Many of these effects on women go undocumented. This paper provides examples of initiatives where a gender-sensitive approach has been used to disaster management. A risk-assessment model in the Caribbean involved women in the research process and in coming up with guidelines; windows of opportunity to transform gender roles were found after hurricane Mitch in which education programmes and campaigns were conducted by NGOs and opportunities were exploited for women to gain non-traditional skills and employment. The paper also describes programmes to ensure that women have access to early warning information through targeting them with forecasts using information channels that are appropriate for them. Recommendations include: increasing women's role in leadership and management; recognition of the gendered effects of disasters on women's livelihoods and caring roles; recognition of women's existing work in disaster management such as preserving seeds and conserving water; conduction of gender-sensitive risk assessments; sharing of information and expertise.

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