No time? Don’t know where to start?
The Roadmaps Web Resource Kit is for use before, during and after emergencies. This is a resource for anyone working in emergency management or who has an interest in the impacts of gender and disaster.
Agencies can use this information when developing their preparedness, response and recovery policies and plans. Information, resources and checklists are grouped according to relevant themes and the amount of time you have available. The ‘Got 5 minutes’ tab is a practical introduction, with more in-depth options on offer. The ‘Need to Take Action’ tab leads to four checklists for four different (although often overlapping) audiences. Each checklist has a general section that applies to everyone.
Introduction to gender and disaster
What impacts the long-term resilience of people who have experienced disasters?
Gendered responses and behaviour
Gendered expectations and impacts
WATCH: How are women discriminated against in disaster? (4:18)
READ: Gender is a central pillar organising our society – as is age, social class, culture, and ability. Disasters occur within a social and cultural context, and therefore a gendered context. Applying a gendered analysis to emergency management assists in predicting where people will be at certain times during the crisis, their social vulnerabilities and the particular risks and hazards they are likely to face. In the aftermath, too, roles differ according to gender. Gender roles existing prior to a disaster may be disrupted following the crisis, with heightened expectations of men and women to live up to stereotypical male or female roles. Women’s family responsibilities are likely to increase and it is traditionally men who work in rescue and recovery. ‘Gender’ is often associated with ‘women’ and ‘vulnerability’ yet women’s strength and heroism in protecting family and community during catastrophic events is rarely recognised or valued. Gendered responses to disaster have been recognised in case studies, field observations, academic studies and the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction. Effective planning and response cannot be assured until these (socially constructed) differences are acknowledged.
WATCH: Actions and Support (1:53)
WATCH: The Benefits of Gender Equality (1:53);
WATCH: Women & Disaster: Dispelling the Hero Myth (3:56)
Seeing emergency management planning, response, recovery and reconstruction through a gender lens allows for a more accurate assessment of the similar but different vulnerabilities and strengths of women and men. Being alert to this at each stage of emergency management is the first step in ensuring a more effective response to disaster — one that is based on reality rather than the myths we perpetuate about men as ‘protector’ and women as ‘protected’.
Climate change exacerbates existing inequalities. From a global perspective, women, as the main crop-growers, primary carers of children, and comprising 70% of the world’s poor, are likely to be particularly susceptible to climate change and natural disasters. As women are poorer than men, the aggregate effect of economic hardship arising from environmental change is worse for women’s health than men’s (Ahnquist et al., 2007). UNAIDS (2012) reports internationally there is a higher female than male death rate in disasters, and climate change increases demands on women in developing countries where they provide water for the family and grow food (Enarson, 2012). This commonly results in lower school attendance by girls. There is growing evidence that violence against women increases after natural disasters. And yet a gendered perspective is largely absent from environmental research, policy, planning and implementation. In developed and developing countries alike, the perspective that women can bring to environmental decision-making is under-recognised and under-utilised.
Women experiencing violence in their relationships may face particular risks during and following a disaster. They may be unable to evacuate with their children, either because of their partner’s refusal to leave or to allow others to leave, because they are isolated and have few community supports or simply because they have no access to a car. For women who are separated from a violent ex-partner, the disruption caused by disaster may expose them to renewed control or violence. Intervention orders may not be enforceable in the height of disasters, women may come in close contact with their ex partners in evacuation centres or community recovery hubs, or, where they and their children are homeless, may have no choice but to turn to, or return to, violent ex-partners for a roof over their heads. Men who have used violence against women and children may use the disaster as an excuse to come back into their lives, in some instances simply to gain access to disaster funds.
WATCH: Disaster and Domestic Violence (4:28)
READ: Violence against women has been found to increase after disasters both in developed and developing nations. In the United States, there was found to be a four-fold increase in intimate partner violence following Hurricane Katrina (Austin, 2008). New Zealand police reported a 53 per cent increase in callouts to domestic violence incidents over the weekend of the Canterbury earthquake in 2010. Australian research has indicated that domestic violence increased following the 2009 bushfires, and, further, that women’s voices were effectively silenced (Parkinson, 2012). This was evidenced by the failure to collect statistics about violent incidents or to characterise incidents as domestic violence, the tendency to neglect the issue in recovery and reconstruction operations, and inadequate responses to women seeking help by legal, community and health professionals. Women’s right to live free from violence was in effect conditional upon the level of suffering men faced post-disaster. In 2010, it was found that one in five Australians would excuse domestic violence if it follows ‘temporary loss of control’ or is regretted by the perpetrator (VicHealth 2010, p. 8). After disasters, sympathies tend to lie with the ‘heroic’ men who fought in the fire, leading to an expectation that women will sacrifice their health for their partners and the community.
WATCH: Actions and Support (1:53)
READ: There are a range of factors that may prevent women from seeking protection from domestic violence including fear of the repercussions for themselves, their partner or their children, shame, self-blaming, and ignorance of the available services and supports. Research has found that these barriers can be exacerbated in the aftermath of disasters. Women, many of whom struggle with their own trauma, may be concerned about reporting their psychologically fragile or suicidal husbands or partners to police. Many fear repercussions from both the community and their violent partners. Or they may minimise their situation in the face of widespread community loss and suffering, or fear that police and support services will do the same. Response and support professionals working in disaster zones, many of who are unlikely to have particular expertise in family violence work, may fail or be reluctant to characterise an incident as such. Research shows that where resources are stretched to address primary, fire-related needs, there is a risk that family violence is ’overlooked’ or minimised by support personnel, particularly where perpetrators are seen as ‘heroes’ in the fires (Parkinson, 2012). Women who participated in the study were told by a range of service providers, including police, health professionals, case managers, and even trauma counsellors to ‘give it some time’, that ‘he’s not himself’, and that ‘things will settle down’ (Parkinson, 2012).
In addition to support services responding inadequately an inappropriately to signs of domestic violence, and even direct requests for assistance, women participating in recent Australian research spoke of negative responses from friends and family members (Parkinson, 2012). Some were ignored, accused of over-reacting or blamed for not considering the needs of their men. Friends and work colleagues did not want to get involved and were sometimes fearful of violence or confrontation themselves. Some women spoke of feeling reprimanded by the person they confided in, making them reluctant to seek support elsewhere. Responses such as these left women unsupported and exposed to risk.. One woman said, ‘I’ll get out of here in a box’.
The current national emergency management guidelines do not mention gender, and many emergency service organisations have organisational structures that overwhelmingly employ men at higher levels and in leadership positions (see Changing emergency management culture). Emergency management conferences reflect this bias in the sex of keynote speakers and the great predominance of male presenters. Past disasters in Australia reveal that few community recovery committees are headed by women or include members who are domestic violence professionals. Case workers and recovery workers are rarely trained in identifying domestic violence, and historically have not been required to include this in assessing the needs of survivors. Post disaster community meetings are unlikely to discuss the likelihood of increased domestic violence, the ways this can be prevented, and the available supports for women and children.
Note: Victoria is modelling an innovative way to mitigate the impacts of disaster on individuals, communities and emergency service organisations through its Gender and Disaster Taskforce. Established in 2014, the Taskforce is auspiced by the Victorian Emergency Management Commissioner and includes representatives from emergency services, state government, women’s health services, key academics and community members. The Taskforce aims to help reduce the compounding effects of gender on disaster impacts, and address gender issues in emergency management practice.
WATCH: Rethinking Capability (3:55)
WATCH: Changing the Culture of Emergency Service Organisations (5:47)
The days of military or emergency capability in disaster management, relying primarily on physical strength, are long gone. Technology takes a bigger role in tasks that once relied on muscle power and other skills and capabilities are increasingly recognised as valuable in situations involving violence or in the context of natural or man-made disasters. Women have an integral role to play in disaster planning, prevention, rescue and recovery. Tasks requiring physical strength and fitness should be open to all who can pass minimum standards.
WATCH: VoxPops video (2:45 minutes)
WATCH: Changing the Culture of Emergency Service Organisations (2:15)
WATCH: Actions and Support (1:53 minutes)
WATCH: Turning Negatives into Successes (2:20 minutes)
READ: Women face discrimination in disaster management (see earlier discussion ). Both in the United States and in Australia, women play an essential, but predominately non-operational role in volunteer and professional organisations. Few are in positions of power (Tyler, 2013). This gendered division of both membership numbers and roles reflects the continual reliance on patriarchal structures in disaster management (Eriksen, 2013).
What impacts the long-term resilience of people who have experienced disasters?
Fatality statistics from the Black Saturday fires indicate that differences between the behaviours of men and women in response to the fire threat were not as significant as is commonly believed. Research into the 2009 fires indicates that while 62% of the men sampled stayed to defend property, 42% of women did the same (Whittaker, Haynes, Handmer, and McLennan, 2013). Similarly, a 2014 study of responses to bushfires in NSW and California found that 18% of women and 26% of men defended their property from fire (Eriksen, 2014).
It has been noted that men often make decisions relating to risk without the necessary knowledge or capacity (Eriksen, 2014). Deferring to men’s assessment of danger may place women and their children at greater risk. There are many anecdotes of men insisting on staying to protect property, resulting in the deaths of themselves and their families. Women, commonly the primary caregivers of their children, are often left to evacuate with their dependents in circumstances of high risk. One woman who survived Black Saturday said of her partner, ‘He was my fire plan’ and in his absence, felt she risked her life in refusing the help of others while she waited for him to return home.
WATCH: Defying Stereotypes (2:53)
Traditional gender roles place expectations on men to provide and protect, and on women to nurture and care for others, sometimes at the expense of their own safety and wellbeing. The financial impact of a disaster brings with it a need to return to work quickly, to rehouse the family and to restore normal routines. After the Black Saturday bushfires, men, women and emergency workers all spoke of male behaviours following the traumatic experience of the fires and in their aftermath, that were harmful both to themselves and to those close to them (Parkinson, 2012; Zara & Parkinson, 2013). Women spoke of increased domestic violence and of men’s reluctance to seek help. Both recalled the censure that followed disclosures of not coping — a reality that did not sit comfortably with the media focus on individual ‘heroes’, and of communities that ‘pull together’, in the true Australian spirit. This contributes to people feeling they have failed what is expected of them as ‘men’ or ‘mothers’ or ‘wives’. The result is post-disaster communities struggling not only with reconstruction, but with increased alcohol and drug abuse, greater prevalence of mental health problems and suicides, increased marriage/relationship breakdown, and increased violence against women and children.
WATCH: Dr Michelle Tuckey at Just Ask Conference 2013 (4:51);
Psychological trauma resulting from people’s experiences during the crisis, and the grief associated with widespread loss can be compounded by the stressors of everyday life in the aftermath of disaster – from coping with physical injury, loss of employment or inflexible employment, financial strain, and difficult living conditions to struggling with bureaucratic processes to access benefits or complicated insurance claims. Men’s coping mechanisms after disaster tend to reflect and reinforce the ‘protector and provider’ stereotype. They are likely to channel their energies into the practical tasks at hand, such as recovery of bodies, clearing debris, rebuilding fences and boundaries, and feeding and enclosing livestock. They may internalise their feelings and withdraw, turning instead to drugs or alcohol as a form of self-medication. These coping mechanisms can isolate men from social support networks and expose them to further trauma.
Traditional gender roles reinforce the image of men as tough and invincible. This can discourage men from seeking both practical and psychological help. Employers often fail to offer personal debriefing or ongoing and confidential access to counselling. For men in emergency service organisations there were perceived career penalties for not coping, and men felt they were expected to get over the experience and resume working at their prior capacity.
Caring for others may hamper escape and survival. The majority of the care work of the elderly, children, and the disabled is done by women (Alston & Whittenbury, 2013; Security4Women, 2012). Time use surveys by the Australian Bureau of Statistics reveal that women in couples still complete most of the unpaid care and domestic work (AHRC, 2013). Strong adherence to traditional gender roles in rural areas can result in women carrying the load of childcare and housekeeping after disaster in addition to the added burden of participating in community recovery efforts. This occurs against a backdrop of interruptions to services such as schools, retail, childcare, roads and transport, disruptions to the informal networks on which women rely (Anderson, 2009; Peek & Fothergill, 2009; Lovekamp, 2008), and at a time when they too are suffering trauma.
While gendered roles are disrupted after disaster, gendered expectations appear to take on greater significance in the aftermath of disaster, perhaps as a way to restore the ‘normal’ social (i.e., patriarchal) order. Men are judged according to how well they had coped and how soon they returned to work and rehoused their family. Women are judged on how well they nurtured husbands and children, in both a practical and emotional sense (Parkinson, 2012). Advances made in gender equality in recent decades are at risk of being lost in the aftermath of disaster as gendered expectations become more rigid. With men in the workforce and out in the world and women tending to increased need in the home, traditional gender roles tend to be reinforced. After the California wildfires in 1991, Susanna Hoffman wrote that: “Progress in carving out new gender behaviour suffered a fifty-year setback. In the shock of loss both men and women retreated into traditional cultural realms and personas”. (Hoffman, 1998, p. 57)
WATCH: Patriarchy (2:01)
WATCH: How Gender Inequality Works (4:51);
On average, Australian women have fewer “financial resources, less wealth and property, and higher family burdens in the dual economies of paid and unpaid work than their male counterparts” (AWHN, 2014, p. 14). Financially, women are poorer than men. There is a persistent wage gap of 18.8 per cent between the sexes (Workplace Gender Equality Agency, 2015), and women retire on half the superannuation savings of men (Boetto & McKinnon, 2013). Women head 82% of sole parent households (ABS, 2011) and families of sole parents are much more likely to be living in poverty (ACOSS, 2013). Women are more likely to be responsible for caring for children and the elderly, often at the expense of their financial independence. The expectation that women fulfil the role of primary care giver and domestic worker in a household is a factor that imposes the highest financial burden on women, costing them an estimated one million dollars over their lifetime (Summers, 2013a; Broderick, 2013). Leadership positions in Australia are overwhelmingly filled by white, middle class males, as is evident in the 2015 Federal Government Cabinet and the majority of corporate boards. Only 15.4% of directors of the ASX 200 companies and 9.2% of executives of the 500 top Australian companies are women (Summers, 2013b). In environmental policy, male leadership is also dominant even though women comprise the majority of grassroots leaders and activists (Armstrong, 2014).
While more men than women die in bushfires in Australia, the gender gap in mortality rates has diminished over the past 50 years, with 40% of deaths being of females in the 50 years to Black Saturday (42% on Black Saturday) (Haynes, et al., 2008).
Bushfire training is commonly geared towards men, with minimal participation by women. This leaves women either reliant on men during the crisis, or left alone to seek protection, or fight fires without training, thereby increasing their risk. A common perception of gendered responses in bushfires is that men fight and women shelter or flee, and the media is complicit in this portrayal (Enarson, 2006). However research with survivors and statistics on the percentage of women actively fighting fires challenge this view (see How do women and men perceive and respond to risk in disasters?).
Witnesses in the 2010 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission objected to the use of the term ‘passively sheltering’ as it was not felt to accurately reflect the activities of those sheltering inside. Most told of hours of sheer hard work in increasingly desperate circumstances. Similarly, the term ‘evacuate late’ sounds clinical and benign, while the reality is that driving children through the fire zone was fraught with danger.
It was evident from our research that in the aftermath of disaster, many women take on a disproportionate burden of familial care and support. This can be because their partners are having trouble coping, or because schools and childcare centres are temporarily closed. Women spoke to us of the personal toll this takes on their health and careers. The same expectations were not levelled at men.
WATCH: How Do Gender Stereotypes Affect Men? (6:16);
Traditional notions of masculinity can impact negatively on men as well as women (Dowd, 2010) . In hyper-masculine cultures men can struggle to relate emotionally to others, and can suffer “isolation, lack of trust, moral, spiritual and physical costs, and social and economic pressures” (Connell, 2003, p. 13). Sexist environments have been found to lead to worse health outcomes for men. Men who try and challenge the concept of a stereotypical man and masculinity risk rejection, marginalisation and victimisation (Kahn, 2011).
In catastrophic disaster, it is frequently impossible for men to meet the standards required of stereotypical manhood. Hyper-masculinity, or the acting out of exaggeratedly masculine characteristics, can emerge in response to these feelings of inadequacy. The atmosphere of impending disaster can act to excite some men, and lead them to take unnecessary risks. Women participating in the Black Saturday research described their partners as wanting to do something to counteract the threat they were experiencing and feeling frustrated when they were unable to do so. In the weeks and months afterwards, other risk-taking behaviours can became commonplace as men tried to regain a sense of control and masculine identity. According to one research respondent,
‘It was a boys’ own adventure – well, he seemed to be in his element.’ (Parkinson, 2012)
Rural cultures tend to be strongly patriarchal, with distinct gender roles for men and women. A ‘frontier mentality and the idea of man against nature, the importance of physical strength, and the valorisation of risk-taking’ (Tyler & Fairbrother, 2013, p. 114) in rural communities can lead to the development of a culture of hyper-masculinity. Such a culture values emotional restraint, self-reliance, physical strength, and particularly in Australia, the idea of mateship, defined by strict group loyalty, limited disclosure and the preference of practical support over emotional support.
Why is gendered lens needed for Fire planning?
Writing a fire plan means confronting exactly this question. If you’re a man, it also means working out what kind of man you want to be – or appear to others to be. Before 2009, the Victorian policy was to ‘Prepare, Stay and Defend or Leave Early’ (‘Stay or Go’). It urged residents to be prepared to respond without assistance (Whittaker et al. 2013). After Black Saturday, the VBRC found that this policy did not account for ‘ferocious’ fires (Whittaker et al. 2013, p. 847). The advice is now to ‘Leave and Live’.
Men are stated as being considerably more likely to die in a bushfire (Handmer, O’Neill & Killalea 2016). Yet, women and girls die in Australian bushfires at a rate of 40%. This high rate is surprising given that firefighters are mostly men. In Victoria in 2016, women were only22% of Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) firefighters, and three to four per cent of Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB) and Country Fire Authority (CFA) firefighters (CFA 2016). A Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights (VEOHRC) report found ‘everyday sexism’ and a ‘hyper-masculine culture’ in the MFB, and other ‘significant reviews have also shown serious cultural and diversity issues’ (McKenzie, Tomazin& Baker 2018). Our own report into barriers for women is further evidence that women are not welcomed as firefighters (Parkinson, Duncan & Hedger 2015).