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No Longer Invisible

Updated: Aug 20, 2021

In celebration of International Women’s Day, I am sharing seven ways to recognize the experience of women in planning for disaster resilience. Our programs build on the strengths of communities, so that they are better protected, better trained, and better prepared for disasters.

Women’s informal networks are a community strength. Far west Nepal

Apply a gender lens. The reasons that earthquakes, tsunamis and hurricanes often kill more women than men have to do with gender roles, not with weakness. Women tend to help children and elders evacuate, an act of care that takes extra time. In an earthquake, women may be more likely to be working in their homes, which may collapse. Resilience solutions should evaluate how risk exposure differs with roles.

Collect data specifically about women. As Caroline Criado Perez reports in her book, Invisible Women: Data Bias In A World Designed For Men, scarce data about women has led to decisions with bad outcomes for them. The simple fix is to collect data separated by gender. This is important because data dictates the design of policies, programs, and systems.

A market stall in Cap-Haitien, Haiti. Separate data on women in local economies is often scarce.

Engage diverse voices. As more women inform planning, they have a voice in change. A priority is to bring women into the room, beyond tokenism. There are also ways to amplify voices as women speak for themselves in community settings. One is to adopt a practice of “no interrupting” or “equal time,” because women in public speaking are often interrupted.

Discussing earthquake reinforcement of the school in Chocos, Peru. Photo: David Hernandez

Involve women in decision making. When women are not represented, their needs are sidelined. How else to explain disaster shelters in which women share a dark space and restrooms with men? Or that homes rebuilt after the 2001 Gujarat earthquake in India AND after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami in Sri Lanka lacked kitchens?

The way forward is for women to have a seat at the table where decisions are made. A push to increase and to value female representation—in research, technical practice, planning, and policy—can diversify leadership and chip away at systemic biases.

Amargadhi municipality mayor (L) and deputy mayor (R) celebrate their election in Nepal. Also worth celebrating: Nepal’s constitution, adopted in 2015, mandates female representation.

Communicate risk in ways that are relevant to women. People have a hard time visualizing what could happen in a disaster. To personalize the experience and motivate actions to prepare, we develop scenarios that feature both female and male main characters. The culturally-relevant story follows family members through an event and aftermath, weaving in technical details.

This scenario of an earthquake in Shaanxi Province, China, tells a story in graphic novel format. It features a grandmother and children in a rural village, and a mother and father who work in distant cities.

Advance professional capacities of women. Women scientists, engineers and policy specialists are far outnumbered by men in communities where we work. That’s why we help to expand their professional networks and mentors. It’s a win for everyone, because collaboration fosters creative problem solving.

Heidi Stenner, GHI geologist and project manager, posing with geology students in Kerala, India who had never had a professional female geologist visit their university. Women comprise more than half of GeoHazards International’s technical staff.

Avoid stereotypes. Consider all the things a woman may be as she plans for a safer future: business owner, professional, farmer, politician, homemaker, nurturer, activist, student. Most important, women can be powerful agents of change.

How do you #ChooseToChallenge? We would love to hear your thoughts.

From all of us at GeoHazards International, Veronica Cedillos, President & CEO P.S. Interested in more about this topic? Some excellent resources: Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men, by Caroline Criado Perez, and Women, Gender and Disaster: Global Issues and Initiatives, edited by Elaine Enarson and P.G. Dhar Chakrabarti.

GeoHazards International 

Bhutan · Dominican Republic · Haiti · India · Nepal · U.S.A.



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