Natural Disasters and Gender: An Unexpected Factor
December 20, 2013
In 1970, the Bhola Cyclone hit Bangladesh, killing close to 300,000 people. Of every 15 victims, 14 were women. Since then, researchers have been looking into the cultural factors that affect genders differently in an emergency situation. In third world countries (historically hardest hit by natural disasters) for instance, social taboos might make it difficult for women to evacuate unescorted.
While we may live in a community free from the same restrictions, other factors are less foreign, in the article, “Improving Women’s Odds in Disasters,” the World Bank reports that “most women in Bangladesh were home-based, and responsible for children and elders . . . They died in cyclones because they did not hear warnings, or because they had to fend for others as well as themselves.”
The circumstances of these women are in some ways similar to what we may experience in the U.S. during an emergency. In a crisis, many women and men may put aside their own safety to lend a helping hand to a spouse, the elderly, children, neighbors, friends, and other loved ones. However, it is also important that in addition to helping others, we learn to help ourselves as well. Or in another circumstance, fathers or mothers who work to provide for their families and may not be home when an emergency strikes, thus it is important that all family members know how to be prepared. Our own preparedness education will allow us to not only help our loved ones, but will enable us to do so without jeopardizing our own health or safety.
This is why for the last 40 years, Bangladesh has labored to involve women more in their emergency planning so that they can help themselves as well as others during an emergency. This increased effort has caused the gender gap in disaster casualties to dramatically decrease. One of the major lessons we can take away from emergency planning in Bangladesh is that no matter what our social, cultural, professional, or domestic circumstances may be, whole families (men, women, children, and the elderly) need to be educated about preparedness.
Learn more about Bangladesh’s efforts to educate citizens about emergency preparedness in the World Bank.org article, “Improving Women’s Odds in Disasters.” Then check out the following articles and resources to get started on your own family’s emergency plan.
- Preparedness Checklists (printable downloads)