Globally, women often suffer disproportionately higher impacts in disasters than men. In many instances where data is available, more women die than men and those that survive may also experience a decline in sexual and reproductive health, increased gender-based violence, disruption to education or are forced into harmful coping mechanisms such as child marriage or transactional sex (Van der Gaag, 2013). These impacts are more pronounced where the socio-economic gap between the sexes is wider (Neumayer and Plümper, 2007). These differences are not natural but arise because of inequitable gender norms (the ways in which different societies define what it means to be masculine and feminine, including division of labour, roles, responsibilities and customs). Many children take on adult roles and responsibilities reflective of these discriminatory gender norms, yet disaster studies infrequently examine gender holistically when it comes to children, typically equating “gender” simplistically with biological sex. Breaking the cycle of gender inequalities requires a more robust consideration of gender in the context of children’s disaster vulnerability and resilience.
The different ways that societies define gender put men and women at different risk to disasters (disaster vulnerability). Globally, women occupy fewer positions of power and have fewer resources to prepare, respond and recover from disasters (Enarson, 2002). Men and boys also experience gender-based disaster vulnerability as they are more likely to participate in search, rescue and reconstruction efforts and be socialised to engage in risky behaviours (Jonkman and Kelman, 2005; Enarson, 2002; Hazeleger, 2013; Enarson and Pease, 2016).
The impact of gender on children experiencing disasters is poorly understood. Data is limited on disaster impacts disaggregated by age and sex. Cultural differences in how childhood is defined add complexity, since some cultures view childhood as a time free from responsibilities, whereas in other cultures children take on adult roles but not adult status (Babugura, 2008). Recent disaster studies emphasise children’s participation in disaster risk reduction (DRR), yet “gender” is often equated simplistically to biological sex, overlooking the gendered roles, responsibilities and social norms that may put them at risk. This brief reviews the literature on gender and disasters, drawing on case study illustrations to emphasise key findings, trends and limitations.