“Caught in the Storm”: The harsh toll of natural disasters on women

A new report says women suffer disproportionately after hurricanes, tsunamis and earthquakes.

Topics: Broadsheet, Pakistan, Natural Disasters, Earthquakes, Aftershock, Love and Sex,

When a natural disaster occurs, everyone suffers. But a report released yesterday suggests that women suffer most. According to the international human rights group Global Fund for Women, during and following catastrophes such as the 2004 tsunami, women are more likely to experience rape or domestic violence — but less likely to have their health needs met by relief groups and to be involved in decision making about reconstruction efforts.

“We know that in the best of times, women have a hard time ensuring their economic security and protecting their livelihood,” Kavita Ramdas, president of the Global Fund, told the Associated Press. “In the context of disasters, that vulnerability gets exacerbated.”

The report is based on the personal testimonies of women and aid workers in Southeast Asia, Guatemala, Pakistan and the U.S.

The AP/San Jose Mercury News also cites a 2002 World Health Organization study of gender and health in natural disasters, which noted that “women and girls in disaster situations may be coerced into sex for basic needs such as food, shelter and security.”

According to the AP, the Global Fund report “called for national and international agencies to consult local female leaders and women’s groups during pre- and post-disaster planning. It also stressed the importance of safe spaces for families in post-crisis situations, women-focused employment and health services, and equal aid distribution.”



The Global Fund has provided grants to several international women’s and relief organizations that are responding to recent disasters, such as the Rural Women Welfare Organization, currently working to rebuild family health clinics and girls schools destroyed by the earthquake in the mountains of Pakistan. Though it normally does not offer grants to U.S. organizations, the Global Fund did award $10,000 to the Katrina Women’s Response Fund of the Ms. Foundation for Women, which in turn has made grants to organizations such as the Louisiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Broadsheet hopes the Global Fund’s efforts will continue to spotlight — and, ultimately, help fray — the link between natural disasters and human discrimination.

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of BreakupGirl.net. She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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