Working with women and girls during disasters: Four things you need to know
When disasters strike, women and girls are often among the most affected – but they are also key players in any response. As the private sector plays an increasing role in preparing for, responding to, and recovering from disasters, it is essential to support women and girls to leverage their potential and support the most vulnerable. Here are four things that businesses should know about women and disasters.
1. Women and girls are often the most affected by disasters
Globally, disasters kill more women than men. The gendered impact of disasters is correlated with overall gender inequalities. In other words, where women do not have the same rights as men, more women than men die in disasters. For example, in Bangladesh, cultural norms often restrict women and girls from learning to swim. As a result, out of the 140,000 people who died in the cyclone that devastated the country in 1991, 90% were women and girls.
CBi’s recent report on gender, the private sector and disasters highlights the impact of crises on women and girls. After a disaster, women are more likely to become victims of domestic and sexual violence. More than 70% of women have experienced gender-based violence (GBV) in a crisis setting. Women often avoid using shelters due to a fear of sexual violence, putting their lives further at risk in disasters such as hurricanes.
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic was exacerbated for women and girls, through increased unpaid care work, compounded economic impact and heightened GBV.
2. Women-led businesses are the hardest hit during crises
Women are often involved in economic sectors that are the hardest hit during disasters, such as agriculture and the informal sector, as our research shows. This also applies to micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), in which women are often affected by a lack of safety nets, social protection, and assets to plan and recover from disasters.
Female-dominated economic sectors were negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, as shown in our recent report, because women often lack access to financial mechanisms (such as credit) and digital technologies to cope with the impact of COVID-19 on their businesses.
CBi helped conduct two surveys on the impact of COVID-19 on women employees and women entrepreneurship in Turkey, in partnership with our Member Network in the country, the Business for Goals platform and Turkish Enterprise and Business Confederation (TURKONFED). The results show that only 26% of surveyed businesses took gender-specific measures specifically for women employees, while more than 84% of women entrepreneurs stated that they were negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
3. Humanitarian responses are more efficient when involving women
Significant progress has been made to include gender equality in humanitarian action, ensure the meaningful participation of women and girls in humanitarian decision-making, and improve technical gender expertise in sudden onset and protracted crises.
Involving women in disaster response is key to ensure that the needs of women and girls are taken into consideration. In Sri Lanka, the Asia-Pacific Alliance for Disaster Management, the CBi Member Network in the country, is increasingly including women in search and rescue activities, since women and girls often refuse to be rescued by men.
Despite this progress, a lot remains to be done. A recent study by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) recommended much greater involvement of women-led organizations in humanitarian decision making as well as strengthening gender-specific analysis.
4. The private sector is putting women and girls forward in response and recovery activities
As women deal more directly with the consequences of disasters, they can play an important role in the recovery, making businesses – and the communities they are part of – more resilient.
In Vanuatu, the Vanuatu Resilience Business Council, a CBi Member Network, decided to work with women business owners to support their recovery from COVID-19. The Phoenix Women in Business project targets women leaders to accelerate economic recovery and job creation. Through funding and capacity building, women business owners have been able to create positive social change in their communities.
In Turkey, several members of the CBi Member Network have taken gender-specific actions in response to COVID-19, many of which are highlighted in a recently published case study. Projects such as "Connected Women”, implemented by Vodafone Turkey, aimed at reducing the digital gender gap and allowing women to adapt to the challenges linked to the working environment during the pandemic.
From Sri Lanka to Turkey to Vanuatu, CBi Member Networks are implementing initiatives targeting women and girls in disaster preparedness, response and recovery activities.
Just as it isn’t possible to work in disaster management and ignore the climate crisis, gender is a critical aspect of the work CBi and its Member Networks do. And there is more to come, as we strive to enable the sharing of best practices and continue to adapt and do what we can to make the world a more gender-equal place.
To learn more about the Connecting Business initiative, visit connectingbusiness.org.