Who suffers? Women's experience of disaster

News and Press Release
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Disasters are gendered events in both their impacts and how people respond to them. In India, emergency situations affecting Majuli Island's men and women highlight the different and specific needs between women and men.

Gendered nature of disaster

Every year the river island of Majuli in the hazard-prone North East of India experiences flood. Thousands of men, women and children are displaced, drink unsafe water and experience food shortages. Affected families flee to river embankments, men and women living side by side in cramped conditions with limited privacy.

"When food is less, we [women and girls] eat after", reveals a 69 year old female farmer and housewife who has experienced flood since childhood, underlining that in the event of food shortages, women and girls are less likely to eat when compared with men and boys.

Increased risk of violence

Gender Based Violence is one problematic in the context of disaster, with families on the move and often separated. Women and girls are particularly vulnerable to violence - sexual violence being the most immediate risk. Young and old female Majuli islanders affirm their increased risk of violence during disaster and stress that lack of access to safe and private wash and sanitation facilities is an additional worry. During disaster and when displaced, women often wait until dark, as is the case in Majuli Island to use wash and sanitation facilities. Moving at night in the search of privacy can leave women once again vulnerable and at risk. A stark reminder that how women and men experience and respond to disaster varies hugely.

Inclusion and Protection

In India, the specific and different needs of women and men in disaster, are recognized by ACTED teams who implement specific activities to tackle the issue. Evacuation shelters currently under construction on Majuli Island are designed in constant consultation with male and female community members to maximise security. Separate male and female wash and sanitation facilities as well as water points will be located in central, accessible and well-lit areas. This is hugely important given that women in developing countries are largely responsible for household water collection. All bathing facilities and latrines will lock from the inside.

ACTED's Majuli Island Inclusion Strategy and active involvement of men and women throughout all stages of project implementation goes a long way to ensure the inclusion, and reduce the vulnerability of women and girls during and post-disaster.