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Why Gender Matters to the Private Sector in Disaster Management

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When the private sector invests in building the resilience of their assets – whether capital, facilities, or employees – it contributes to strengthening local resilience. Working with women on such issues is also an opportunity for greater impact and faster recovery. In this article, we will explore why this is.

Disasters have a significant impact on the global economy: between 1998 and 2017, affected countries reported direct losses of $2.908 trillion; almost 15% more than the United Kingdom’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2017.

Stable markets, healthy and secure employers, consumers who can purchase products and services, good governance and strong institutions are all vital to the functioning of the private sector. Therefore, there is a clear business case for the private sector to be engaged as a key stakeholder across disaster risk reduction, emergency preparedness, response, and recovery efforts, as well as building long-term community resilience.

Women and business – a recap

Gender inequities are not only a moral and social conundrum, but also an economic one: women account for half the world’s working-age population, but only 37% of GDP. That discrepancy robs the global economy of $12 trillion in wealth we could share if each country improved gender equality.

What’s more, companies continue to benefit from increasing employment and leadership opportunities for women, as that increases organizational effectiveness and growth. It is estimated that companies with three or more women in senior management score higher in all dimensions of organizational performance.

Women, the economy, and disasters

On the ground, women are overrepresented in the hardest hit economic sectors in disasters, such as agriculture and the informal sector. This also applies to micro-, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), in which women – whether owners or workers – are often affected by a lack of safety nets and social protection. In small businesses, the cash coverage is smaller compared to larger enterprises, so they often lack assets to plan and recover from disasters.

However, MSMEs are the backbone of economies as they represent about 90% of businesses and account for 60-70% of employment as well as 50% of GDP on average. Women-led MSME recovery therefore plays an important aspect in overall livelihood recovery.

In parallel, the main responsibility of unpaid work in almost all societies falls to women, with women performing 76.2% of total hours of unpaid care work globally – more than three times as much as men.

As the burden of unpaid care work increases in disasters, this influences women’s behavior and economic recovery, the survival of women-led MSMEs and the increased job losses by women. It also limits their ability to participate in community decision-making meetings for humanitarian response, making it even harder for their needs to be heard.

This makes it essential for any initiative working with MSMEs to factor in gender-related considerations for maximal societal impact, especially when it comes to disaster preparedness, response and recovery.

What can the private sector do with regards to gender inequalities, particularly in the context of disaster management?

In business continuity planning, the organizational characteristics typically referred to often fail to incorporate the realities of women. Acknowledging this could contribute to better business continuity planning and therefore to overall livelihood resilience, especially at the local level. Even when the woman is responsible for the disaster preparedness work of a family business, the man of the family may be the one invited to participate in business continuity training, depending of the cultural roles and responsibilities.

There is a need for women to access such trainings, specifically in MSMEs and for women living in poverty. While capacity building is important, addressing gender in trainings does not just mean including women; it also means addressing the challenges that women-led MSMEs or women workers face in disasters, such as the increased unpaid care workload at home, or the increased risk of gender-based violence, as these impact possibilities for recovery.

As women often deal with disaster consequences more directly, they can be an excellent resource, contributing useful insights to any business they are involved with in terms of how to make them more resilient as well as how they can support their communities.

Businesses can also react to women’s needs in disasters by providing tailored solutions. For example, are hygiene kits designed to fulfill the needs of women and pregnant women? Is there a digital gender divide when considering technology-based humanitarian assistance? And overall, were women consulted on their needs when planning a response intervention?

Ensuring that the needs of women, men, girls and boys are understood and considered by the private sector and that interventions for preparedness, response and recovery are inclusive lays the foundation for sustainable growth. It also ensures that no one is left behind, creating a more resilient livelihood structure for the community. The good news is that while crises often have devastating impacts, they may be used as an opportunity to transform traditional gender norms in business and business continuity.

Interested in gender and disasters? This is Part II of a series, with Part I covering Gender & Disasters overall and upcoming articles presenting the impact of COVID-19 from gender and private sector perspective, as well as case studies around the theme.