|A Research Agenda for Disaster and Emergency Management (Department of Humanitarian Affairs/United Nations Disaster Relief Office - Disaster Management Training Programme - United Nations Development Programme , 76 p.)|
9 This section is based upon material collated by Dr. Raymond Wiest from a study on women and children in emergencies prepared by him and Dr. J. Mocellin and D. Motsisi for UNDP/UNDRO's Disaster Management Training Programme.
11.1 Disaster literature on women and children has only recently begun to expand. Current gender research needs are predicated by the fact that normal familial responsibilities of women are especially magnified or disrupted by the onset of disaster events. Their normal responsibilities of production (women as providers of income or subsistence), reproduction (bearing and rearing children) and maintenance of the domestic group (community management activities such as procuring the water supply or collective child care) all tend to be adversely affected by a disaster. The extent of impacts which disasters have upon women are rooted in various forms of emotional, social, economic and institutional dependency, and the combined effect of these variables often makes intervention measures difficult to identify and design.
11.2 As has been suggested throughout this agenda, the degree of vulnerability of a population is the real cause of why hazards frequently lead to disasters, and hence, an appreciation of the societal and cultural contexts is important in understanding the impact of disasters. This is particularly so in the case of women and children because the social structure of most societies formally relegates women and children to inferiority and dependency and increases their vulnerability through such disempowerment The actual performance of women differs significantly from traditional gender ideology and role stereotypes in most societies. It is therefore essential to address these realities in order to appreciate the differential impact of disasters on women and children, and to recognize in the actions of women the potentials for disaster preparedness, mitigation, and recovery.
11.3 The current view, expressed by several operational agencies, is that women are a 'vulnerable group', particularly because of the large number of women and women-headed households that commonly prevail in disaster situations and the responsibilities borne by women related to the stability of the domestic group. Such 'vulnerability' is cultural and organizational rather than biological or physiological. The resultant dependency displayed by vulnerable groups in emergencies is especially felt by adolescents, pregnant women, lactating mothers, the disabled, and the aged. In the course of determining the impact of both natural and man-made hazards on such vulnerable sections of the population, it is imperative to note that their vulnerability to disasters is created by certain social and economic processes.
11.4 In areas where the disaster victims are confined to overcrowded 'care and maintenance' camps, often for extended periods of time, women are frequently subjected to family violence due to pent-up frustrations and fragmented community life. They are simultaneously exposed to sexual abuse. Under such circumstances, women become victims of structural and social discrimination resulting in their further disempowerment.
11.5 It is therefore recommended that two sets of studies be undertaken, namely:
· a detailed review of the existing literature on sexual exploitation of girls and women in times of emergencies and disasters. Such a review should then form the basis of an additional study, which controls for socio-cultural variables, aimed at identifying preventive factors of sexual abuse and culturally appropriate interventions; and
· a study to determine the institutional and legal mechanisms of protection of women and children in emergencies, including an assessment of the sociopolitical and ideological factors that impede women's search for equal employment opportunities or their freedom of assembly and expression.
11.6 In developing countries woman play a pivotal role not only in the socialization of children, but also in the production of food, particularly in the rural areas. Ironically, in times of disaster, women are most often the victim of the worst forms of under-nourishment or malnutrition because traditional cultural norms preclude an equitable access to nutrition. Moreover, due to the disruptions caused by disaster events, women also incur psychological and emotional stress disorders due to material loss. loss of kin, cultural displacement, and physical and emotional insecurity in the new environment to which they may be displaced.
11.7 Psychological survival will be directly dependent upon the personal capacity to cope with extreme conditions, on the socio-emotional resources available, such as special health services becoming available during crisis and relief phases, and the severity and duration of a hazard. Depending on the balance of the above components, post-stress traumatic effects will most likely appear throughout most of the population, and especially among women and children, thereby generating additional social problems for the community if not therapeutically treated within six months after the impact of the disaster. There are, however, conditions which will protect people from major psychological breakdown, including the factors commonly used to cope with the grief over the loss of a loved one, such as spiritual belief or strong social and/or community support. To date, very little research has been undertaken on this issue; we need to know much more about the kind of information that can be made available to the victims after disaster onset (and how to effectively deliver this information) to help victims cope more effectively with stress and trauma.
11.8 Where the incidence of women-headed households is high in disaster areas, women and their children will be affected disproportionately. The impacts of a disaster may include loss of loved ones, loss of homeland (in the case of displaced populations), destruction of physical property, loss of land and/or livestock, and loss of their sense of community. Lack of employment opportunities for women, particularly in organized relief settlements, all too often force large numbers of women into socially unacceptable forms of wage labour, or worse, into prostitution in their attempts to gain income to sustain their families. In such cases, women who are already marginalized by their status as disaster victims suffer the added indignity of being viewed as social outcasts.
11.9 In women-headed households women may also have to assume responsibility for caring for older and feeble relatives. Thus they become the bread-winners who play the socializing roles of both mother and father in providing material and emotional support to the children. However, when both material and emotional support for them is lacking, and mental health support services are not provided, these unusually resourceful women often break down. Occasionally, their resultant depression is unwillingly passed on to the children. In contrast, studies have suggested that men, in accordance with strongly internalized and culturally widespread traditional gender roles, repress their suffering more than women. Some research suggests that women typically express their emotions more openly and more strongly than men. Such findings can readily be adapted to disaster situations, to conditions prevailing in emergency shelters, and to relief camps and the protracted periods of rehabilitation and reconstruction following a disaster.
11.10 It is therefore recommended that a series of research projects be initiated to address the question of health and disaster-induced stress, especially as this affects women and children. Such research must go beyond the simple expansion of medical anal or psychiatric services to relief camps or disaster areas; it should, on the other hand, look into the effectiveness of combining western medicine with traditional medicine and healing practices. Research must also focus on how to better utilize the agricultural background and farming knowledge of women and children to improve and expedite their nutritional intakes in times of emergencies.
11.11 Research is also urgently needed on the interactive impact of stressors and stress and on the modifying measures applied to women and children in emergencies. Specifically, such research needs to include:
· the compilation of a list of preventive measures (and their simple implementation by health personnel) which will reduce catastrophic stress reactions during the crisis and relief phases of a disaster; and
· an analysis of the positive interaction of self-help groups in conjunction with western style counselling and how to increase these links and expand such groups into areas with high incidence of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder).
11.12 In many developing countries, women's contribution to extra-domestic labour is obscured or even denied. Pre-disaster conditions in many societies deny to women what they in actuality carry out, thus rendering them and their dependent children relatively more vulnerable than men. With organized consciousness-raising efforts, recognition of the real contribution of women is an asset in terms of potential productive and creative capacity. Their contribution to the social and economic development of their societies is often dominantly visible in the so-called 'informal sector;, and as such, not recognized adequately within the 'modem sector'. This results in the minimal absorption of their labour into the mainstream labour market.
11.13 With the disruption of established social control mechanisms under disaster conditions, women and children are the first to be neglected and/or abused; they encounter strong institutional barriers to organizational efforts, especially in societies with strong patriarchal ideologies. Women are less likely to organize, either out of seclusion, education, or outright threat. This means that the organizational and mobilizing role of women in emergencies has to be developed much more effectively than before. When it comes to reconstruction following a disaster, it is common to find that women are denied access to credit facilities or have little knowledge on how to access credit. Such conditions are symptomatic of the serious lack of women's empowerment in political, economic, and social terms; disasters tend to reinforce this situation.
11.14 Because women have a prominent role in the control and distribution of food in most societies, it is reasonable to suggest that agencies make more of a concerted effort to channel food assistance primarily through women. The likely consequence would be a more equitable distribution that would reach the needy in general, and especially children. However, since food assistance comes through governments and external channels, and because manipulation of food aid is a lucrative business for middlemen and/or officials, such changes may not be easy to implement.
11.15 It is therefore recommended that research on social roles of women and children be implemented, focusing especially on the following projects:
· a socio-economic and cultural analyses of changes in women's varying domestic responsibilities following a disaster event, including production, reproduction and maintenance of the family structure, and women's varying involvement in the wider society;
· the identification of pre-disaster and post-disaster factors leading to changes from traditional to innovative roles for women and factors which will enhance the participation of women and children in the various phases of response to disaster;
· the development of a data-bank comprised of studies in both developed and low-income countries where programs have been successfully applied to increase the organizational and managerial capacity of women; an assessment of how such programs can be replicated in disaster-prone areas;
· a pilot study on utilizing women and children as a labour force in emergency construction projects, including how to facilitate their access to primary resources for building sustainable types of shelters;
· the design and implementation of assistance programs appropriate for women with different backgrounds (i.e., which show sensitivity to variables of age, education, social class, rural or urban in the original place) and which allow for a diversity of strategies for women by not assuming that women will be integrated only in agricultural-related projects.