Joint Position Paper of the National Women’s Alliances – March 2020
During an emergency, everyone in a community is affected, but there is strong evidence to show that different groups of people experience disaster differently. Gender stereotypes and roles, inequality, intersecting identities and forms of discrimination, social isolation and economic constraints have previously resulted in women being placed in positions of increased susceptibility to harm during an emergency and in immediate and longer-term recovery.
Disasters have a gendered face. In Australia, the need to cope with disasters in Australia has been shown to reinforce traditional gender roles within families and communities, with women contributing to unpaid community support work, caring for children and family, while forgoing or relinquishing employment opportunities which are crucial for gender equality and women’s longer-term economic security.[i] Evidence shows this pattern has recurred in the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires,[ii] and the 2011 floods in Queensland and Victoria.[iii] Further, Australian research has shown that rates of domestic and family increase in post-disaster settings.[iv]
There is a risk that any non-gendered bushfire recovery plan will fail to identify and address the different challenges and needs of women, which would in turn exacerbate the harmful impacts on them. Failure to respond to the different experiences and priorities for women will risk increasing gender inequality in the longer-term. At the same time, there is also evidence to show that disaster recovery is an opportunity for change, and for promoting gender equality as communities and lives are rebuilt.[v] All disaster preparation, management, response and recovery efforts need to include a gender analysis at all levels, within both government and non‐government organisations.
Further, intersectional issues for women and people facing more than one type of disadvantage or discrimination should be considered. An intersectional lens needs to be applied to all aspects of the recovery process. ‘An intersectional lens’ refers to the way in which social norms such as racism, migration status, laws, policies and interventions act together and over time to compound the impacts of inequality on particular groups of people, for example on Aboriginal women, women with disability, or who are from low-socioeconomic backgrounds.
An intersectional gender lens is a tool for analysing how social norms, policies and interventions act alongside gender inequality to create more severe impacts on particular groups of women and people. It requires looking at a particular intervention systemically alongside other policies and systems of disadvantage to help us to understand the disparate impacts of a policy on particular groups of women and people. ‘An intersectional gender lens’ begins with considering how multiple forms of discrimination, for example gender and race, may coincide to multiply and create new harms to particular people, for example, how racial and sex discrimination may amplify harms experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women. This means particular efforts should be made to engage diverse groups of women, including regional, rural and remote women, women with disability, women from migrant and refugee backgrounds, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, older women, young women and LGBTIQ+ people in positions of community leadership and in the development and implementation of recovery initiatives. This will enable consideration of how different structures and systems may interact and increase harms or barriers to recovery.
This joint position paper focuses on these gendered considerations. It draws from the collective expertise and engagement of the National Women’s Alliances (NWAs), including previous work on disasters:
- A survey of 300 women undertaken by the National Rural Women’s Coalition (NRWC) in early 2020 on rural, regional and remote (RRR) women’s experiences of rural life, including current disasters (henceforth the NRWC 2020 survey),
- The Impact on Women in Disaster Affected Areas in Australia: ‘We need to think about vulnerability differently’ (Report on the 2014 Roundtable Discussion in Canberra), 2014, Australia: economic Security4Women (eS4W), NRWC
- eS4W’s Women’s Voices from the Flood Plains: an economic gender lens on responses in disaster affected areas in Queensland and Victoria, 2012, Victoria: eS4W, JERA International
The paper draws on other existing resources and evidence on the interaction between gender and disaster in Australia. People with Disability Australia (PWDA) have also contributed expertise to the drafting this paper.