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Improving Disaster Preparedness with Gender and Diversity Analysis

July 30 2018 - by Carole Houlihan, CLP's Gender and Diversity Specialist

The 2018 Hurricane Season has started with three named storms to date, with two developing into hurricanes. Scientists are predicting that the season may be near-average, with 14 named storms, of which six may become hurricanes. 

The 2017 season was one of the worst on record, causing hundreds of casualties and reversing socioeconomic development in hardest hit territories. It was by far the costliest season on record. In Barbuda, 90 percent of the infrastructure was destroyed, and Dominica was devastated. Hurricanes Irma and Maria killed more than 300 people.

The application of Gender and Diversity Analysis - an approach that looks at the needs and capacities of women and men of all ages and abilities - is a valuable tool for improving preparation and response to disasters.

The Caribbean Institute for Meteorology and Hydrology (CIMH) and the CDEMA are reviewing early warning systems (EWS) through the Climate Risk and Early Warning Systems (CREWS) Project, which has a special focus on Antigua and Barbuda and Dominica. One objective of the review is to use gender analysis to develop systems that address the ability of men and women of all ages and circumstances to address multiple hazards.

The key elements of Early Warming Systems are:

  • Understanding risk, monitoring the hazards and preparing
  • Receiving clear, credible, timely information about the hazard
  • Knowing what action to take to safe guard life and property and being able to take the required action.

The review examined how the different roles, relationships, responsibilities and perceptions of men, women, girls and boys affects their ability to prepare for and respond to disaster. The study found that three interrelated factors affect the ability of women and men to respond: 1) Income level; 2) Household structure, and; 3) Gender.

It is important to understand, for example, if men and women receive information about disasters through different media (radio, mobile phone alerts, television, word of mouth) and if people of different ages and income levels have different levels of tolerance for risk.     

Women and men’s ability to take action in the face of impending disasters may be limited by their physical ability (i.e. elderly and disabled people in remote areas) and economic resources. The study recounted the experience of one young, single mother who was very aware of the need to prepare before the hurricane hit, but did not have the money to purchase food, water and diapers for her baby. Although she knew she needed all items, due to her limited funds, she had to choose.  

The study also emphasized the need to understand the needs of people in each community and not to make assumptions or generalize from other communities’ situations or contexts. Each community needs to understand the challenges face by individual women and men and their capacities to contribute to disaster preparation and response.

For example, CDEMA's  Executive Director, Ronald Jackson, alumnus of the CLP's Leadership Development Programme, said one of the “key” lessons from last year was that in the immediate aftermath of the passage of the hurricanes the main communication that functioned and provided critical information in all countries was amateur radio operators. He called on young people to join these organisations noting that “in the age of technology, there is something that is very attractive to the youth and we want youth supporting comprehensive disaster management (CDM)…so they should get involved in amateur radio operations”. 

What is your experience in understanding the needs and utilizing the capacities of different members of the community, including youth?


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