So, I have been extremely absent :(( due to a lot that I won't go into, but not a day goes by without me feeling extremely guilty. I am super busy with uni so I don't have time to research/write for my precious baby :( (wow, I'm awful). Buuuuut I just submitted a poster in which I discussed 'gendered hazardscapes', so I decided I would plan an post for here alongside my poster. I read 6 journal articles for this POSTERRRRRRRRRR (I am SOO extra with my reading) and OBVIOUSLY didn't show off up to half of my new found knowledge but I regret nothing because
1) I am now a little smarter
2) I get to share it with all of you, my lovely feminists/feminists-to-be (only downside is that there are like loads of words, I apologise but I promise it's all worth it!)
Different Identities, Different Vulnerabilities
Due to their different roles in society men and women are susceptible to different risks. For example, as this tasteless vogue campaign shows us, the first responder professions tend to be male dominated, so if there was a forest fire that had to be put out, men would be at a higher risk. Men's risk during disasters could also be increased by the need/expectation to display their masculinity. This could be as obvious as men playing the hero, carrying people out of dangerous positions, or as subtle as saving their fruit cart in the midst of a flood, securing their livelihood.
(for an awesome critique of this trash click here)
Alongside risk comes vulnerability. Where risk is considered to be the likelihood, or probability, of a hazard affecting someone their vulnerability can be defined as their capacity to anticipate, cope with, resist and recover from a hazard. From this we can see that the better off you are in a society, the less vulnerable you are. The intersection of categories such as race, class and religion has an affect on one's social standing, therefore an effect on their vulnerability.
Gender is also one of such categories. Women and Transgender men and women are victims of the structural inequalities embedded in our capitalist system and therefore more vulnerable to hazards, albeit in several different ways. To give an example, my lecturers research (Mustafa et al., 2015) touches upon 'hijras' (trans-women) in Pakistan, who have been denied "basic human rights such as education, employment and healthcare." They live in a secluded community headed by 'gurus' on whom they depend. They have limited access to early warnings and should that warning be disseminated they have limited freedom to protect themselves as best they see fit, therefore making them more vulnerable.
What a lot of gender analysis of disaster management and research focuses on is female vulnerability. Women are bundled with children as passive agents in need of help and rescuing from the heroic man. This infantilisation (second favourite new world lol) undermines and discredits the actions women take to ensure the safety of their families and communities. In opposition to this, I am going to talk about the essential roles women play in mitigating against, recovering from and building resilience to disasters, because I hate that this is overlooked in preference for:
Women are essential in disaster management...
Although women tend to be excluded from formal warning systems, they seem to have more knowledge about everyday hazards which are likely to affect them, such as water sanitation. Women tend to have more vernacular knowledge about their lands and which strategies might be best to help mitigate against hazards. However, their insights are often overlooked in the male-dominated field of disaster management which tends to neglect not only their indigenous knowledge, but also their needs as a lot of disaster management is either gender neutral or gender blind, disregarding gender sensitivity.
Women have a huge role in responding to disasters and protecting their family (especially children and the elderly), despite the fact that they might not have the means to, for example no early warning. No matter how much of a challenge it is, women are expected to keep the household running. For example, Maureen Fordham takes a case study of two floods that occurred in Scotland in 1993&4 where 50 families had to share one washing machine on their caravan site. Despite this struggle the women managed and their families didn't seem to be worse off; the women bore the burden by staying up all night and running to the machines early in the morning.
She also describes women physically recovering goods and how some women were scolded by their husbands because they did not evacuate with the items their husbands deemed valuable. Others that were not 'told off' mentioned that they were 'lucky' they made their decisions based on how their husband would react if they prioritised certain items. Studies have argued that women tend to save things of sentimental value, whilst men care more about the material value. In the cases Fordham outlines, the women did indeed go for the items of material value to appease their husbands.
In other places around the world, it is known that women put the needs of their family and community above their own, often eating last and least in times of food security. Although, this might seem like a choice particular women make, society has shaped it as our responsibility to provide these selfless maternal services, and if we don't, who will? Men? LOL.
In 1998, Maureen Fordham wrote in her paper that women are known to organise and lead emergent post-disaster groups, including voluntary groups and groups that battle local bureaucracies and insurance companies, to win adequate support and/or compensation. Fast forward a few years to the aftermath of hurricane Sandy and this is what Judith Rodin, president of the Rockefeller foundation at the time, had to say:
the communities that rebounded more quickly had a better community infrastructure and often that was around women; how women organised, what the trust levels were among women in that community really impacted the rebound. So we know in post-disaster recovery that gender matters.
These accounts both attest to the fact that women offer post-disaster empowerment that is essential for communities to bounce back from a hazard as quickly as possible.
... Despite the fact that we are structurally more vulnerable
Due to structural inequalities and discrimination, women are intrinsically more vulnerable than men. This isn't just a case of female vulnerability but rather it is that "social processes interact with natural processes to produce the differentiated vulnerabilities and sufferings that ensue” (Sultana, 2010: 46). To put it simply, any group of people that are victim to structural inequalities will be more vulnerable than their privileged counterparts. This is why the literature mostly focuses on women in the Global South because, in comparison to men in the Global South and women in the Global North, they are significantly disadvantaged. But Western societies are deeply patriarchal also, meaning we too are disadvantaged in comparison to our male counterparts.
Women have been socially manipulated to be dependent upon males, be it their fathers, their husbands or even their brothers (which is funny considering we are also expected to carry these men through life, for a critique of entitled men see here). Rhetoric such as 'the man is the head of the home', puts social and financial control in the man's hands, relinquishing female autonomy. This is exactly what we saw in the example I gave of the Scottish women having to consider what their husband would want as opposed to saving what they thought necessary.
Women are typically restricted to private life, all that 'home-maker' rhetoric acts to exclude women from the public realm, marginalising them from society. In times of a hazard this is extremely dangerous as it means women are dependent on men to get information such as early warnings and evacuation schemes etc. The home being a woman's domain has severe implications, especially in hazards where the home is the primary point of recovery.
Female subordination in societies across the world has also been employed in terms of financial subordination. The pay gap in the west and the discouragement of educated/employed women in the Global South means that women tend to be of a lower economic status and therefore, in the face of a disaster, are more vulnerable. They might not be able to afford the supplies needed for them to mitigate against the catastrophic events of a natural hazard. In the case of a female-headed household, the whole family is made vulnerable from this inequality.
Men make shit super hard for women, but we are just fabulous so we get it done still!
btw, men are trash (yes, I'm back) xx
Cutter, S. 1996. Vulnerability to environmental hazards. Progress in Human Geography 20(4), 529-539.
Fordham, Maureen H. 1998: Making women visible in disasters: problematising the private domain, Disasters, 22:2, pp. 126-143.
Halvorson, S. J. (2003) A Geography of Children’s Vulnerability: Gender, Household Resources, and Water-Related Disease Hazard in Northern Pakistan. The Professional Geographer, 55(2), 120-133.
Mustafa, D., G. Gioli, S. Qazi, R. Waraich, A. Rehman and R. Zahoor 2015. Gendering flood early warning systems: the case of Pakistan. Environmental Hazards, 14(4), 312-328.
Sohrabizadeh, S. (2016) The Neglect of Women’s Capacities in Disaster Management Systems in Iran: A Qualitative Study. Indian Journal of Gender Studies,
Sultana, F. 2010, “Living in Hazardous Waterscapes: Gendered Vulnerabilities and Experiences of Floods and Disasters” Environmental Hazards 9(1): 43-53.