International Women*s Day 2022 — #BreakTheBias

Today, women* (i.e. women, girls, and people of all genders affected by misogyny) and allies worldwide are coming together, organising, and protesting to call for gender equality, radical change, and a world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, existing and persistent inequalities lead to in additional repercussions for women*, for example, by limiting their access to information, health care services or disaster relief. Acknowledging the importance of fostering gender equality in disaster risk reduction and management, this year’s 66th Commission on the Status of Women (14-25 March 2022) aims at achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls in the context of climate change, environmental and disaster risk reduction policies and programmes.

But how do gender dynamics influence our resilience in face of hazards and disaster?

According to UN Women, women and girls are disproportionately affected by disaster impacts due to structural constraints and a lack of information and resources to prepare for, respond to and cope with a disaster. Gender-based violence increases in the aftermath of disasters and traditional gender roles are reinforced. Disasters often reinforce, perpetuate, and increase existing gender inequalities. Additionally, voices of women* are underrepresented in disaster risk management (DRM), thereby, ignoring and losing diverse perspectives and potentials. Existing gender roles, social norms and traditions in a society shape DRM plans and approaches and strategies, thereby, adding to the risk of ignoring gender-specific risks and gendered consequences of disasters.

Gender inequality and associated underlying factors such as socioeconomic circumstances, cultural and social norms, beliefs, and traditions result in some people being affected differently by natural hazards and disasters than others. Applying an intentional gender lens in all dimensions of risk management allows developing gender-responsive strategies and measures as well as creating an enabling environment for all genders to communicate their needs and make use of their capacities. While assessing risks, not only gender inequality has to be considered, but also other intersecting modes of discrimination such as income, religion, or age.

What does being vulnerable to hazards and disasters mean?

Vulnerability is a technical term in disaster risk management. It describes physical, social, economic and environmental factors or processes which increase the negative impact of hazards on an individual, a community, assets or systems.

All of us are vulnerable to hazards and disasters—just to a different degree. Disasters magnify existing social inequalities and further disadvantage those, who are already more vulnerable. Vulnerability varies, for instance, depending on structural power dynamics, social norms, gender roles or individual factors such as place, income, age, disability, sexual orientation, ethnic background, religion, gender, access to social protection systems and others.

While vulnerability summarises a range of adverse factors to their resilience, individuals and systems oftentimes also have knowledge, skills and untapped potentials to build resilience. Therefore, understanding the context, the capacities and needs of populations is key, for instance, by conducting vulnerability and capacity assessments to address inequalities and people‘s different need in the preparedness stage of risk management. This relies on fostering participation and agency, reducing the gender data gap, tapping into local knowledge, and incorporating diverse perspectives into risk-informed development approaches.