Gender Dimensions in Disaster Management

by Madhavi Malalgoda Ariyabandu and Maithree Wickremasinghe
ITDGPractical Action South Asia Publication
ISBN 955 9417 16 9

Price US $12.00 (Sri Lanka price Rs. 500.00)

This book aims to address the dearth of specific information on the subject of ‘gender issues in disasters’, particularly in the South Asian countries. It introduces the subject, raises awareness in policy/decision makers and the many thousands of development practitioners across South Asia, whose contribution is crucial for effective disaster management and sustainable development.

The book places the issue of gender in the context of development, and extends the discussion to show how gender and development concerns are reflected in the context of disasters.

The discussion of the book is based on the fundamental arguments that:

  • The risk posed by natural hazards is a variable, and has direct implications on development in general, and livelihoods in particular.
  • Disaster risk management is part of ‘managing the livelihoods’ for many millions of people in the sub-continent and elsewhere in the developing world.
  • The gender concerns expressed and experienced in the development context are applicable in the context of disasters-with an added weight-due to the specific nature of vulnerabilities and capacities prevalent in all stages of disasters.

The specific vulnerabilities and capacities of men and women, as well as the gender/social dynamics of disaster situations are often not obviously visible. Detailed livelihood analysis however, exposes these often subtle but vital considerations. If ignored or unattended, these concerns will impede development efforts from reaching their goals.

This Guide captures the experiences of ITDGPractical Action, and the members of the Duryog Nivaran network, as they interacted closely with the communities living in situations of various natural hazards in South Asia during the last few years. While the major part of the evidence was generated through the case studies carried out in Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka under the South Asia regional programme - ‘Livelihood Options for Disaster Risk Reduction in South Asia’ the book also draws on other documented evidence on the subject. It presents real-life examples, and case studies, which depict the subtle gender concerns and gender-based social dynamics prevalent in managing disasters, protecting daily-livelihoods, and in disaster/crisis situations.

In this Guide, ITDGPractical Action and its network of partners in South Asia, present their firm conviction that incorporating disaster risk into development planning, and addressing gender considerations in all situations, is an absolute must to reach the goals of sustainable development and effective disaster risk reduction.

The guidelines proposed here aim to help address these concerns in planning and implementing development and disaster management programmes. The guidelines are presented under the two categories of ‘Guidelines for Policy-makers’ and ‘Guidelines for Practitioners’. Of course, there are substantial linkages between the two sets of guidelines because they share the basic principles relating to interventions and arise from practical scenarios. While they stand independently of one another, cross-reference between the two sets will add to their completeness.

The book is available for sale at:

ITDGPractical Action South Asia
5, Lionel Edirisinghe Mawatha
Colombo 5, Sri Lanka

Fax- 94 11 2856188

The proceedings of the book will be-reinvested in community disaster risk reduction projects.

“Gender Dimensions in Disasters” was launched at the Sri Lanka Foundation institute on 9 January 2004 amidst a distinguished gathering that consisted of activists from NGOs, journalists and academics from many organisations. The participants were welcomed by the country Director of ITDGPractical Action Dr Vishaka Hidellage. The authors of the book Madhavi Ariyabandu and Maithree Wickremasinghe gave brief introductions about the book. This was followed by two reviews on the book by Professor Uma Coomarasway and Swarna Jayaweera.

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Review of Gender Dimensions in Disaster Management

by Swarna Jayaweera

Gender Dimensions in Disasters makes a breakthrough in the areas of development planning and gender and development that are of critical importance to national policy perspectives and human concerns.

In Sri Lanka, as in the rest of South Asia, disasters such as floods, cyclones, landslides, drought, earthquakes, tend to be isolated in the perceptions of planners as a humanitarian issue to which ad hoc responses are made in the form of immediate relief, after which life goes on as before till the next crisis. It appears also to be a concern of geological and environmental scientists and activists but has yet to be integrated into an overall development perspective. As pointed out in the book, it is not included even in the periphery of any development paradigm including ‘trickle down’ theories, basic needs approaches, IRDPs, and poverty alleviation programmes. The book takes a stance, that is a refreshing departure from traditional frameworks, in integrating disaster management in development planning.

Secondly, gender has not been fully mainstreamed in all policies and programmes at national and local levels in Sri Lanka. It has yet to be recognised as a crosscutting issue even after three decades of international concern and advocacy by women’s organisations. This book brings together three compartmentalisd strands of porgramme perspectives – disaster management, development planning and gender issues in individual and national development, and conceptualises gender and development concerns in the context of natural and man made disaster.

While the International Decade for Disaster Reduction does not appear to have promoted gender sensitive policies and programmes, this book takes off from the concern expressed in the Beijing Platform of Action regarding the impact of disaster on women, and the specific recommendation of the Beijing + 5 document in 2000 that a gender perspective should be incorporated in policies and programmes pertaining to all phases of the disaster cycle from prevention and mitigation to response and recovery.

Thirdly, gender analysis is not a core component of development planning, despite the fact that it is a pre-requisite if gender concerns are to receive due attention. This book marks a refreshing change in its exhaustive gender analysis, based on the real experiences of women affected by disaster, documented in case studies from the South Asia region. As the book points out, potential natural hazards exist world wide. They erupt into disaster as a consequence of the interface of vulnerabilities and inappropriate development policies resulting in resource degradation and depletion or conflicts created by human agency.. It also underscores a fact that is apt to be overlooked by policy makers and administrators, that there are gender differences in vulnerabilities, in impact, in coping strategies and in measures to reduce vulnerability. These differences are shown to stem from gender specific needs and the social construction of gender reflected in the roles and responsibilities of women and men, the gender division of labour and gender relations. The gendered impact of armed conflict. in Sri Lanka and the most recent disaster we had to face, the floods that devastated areas of the Southern and Sabaragamuwa Provinces illustrate very vividly these differences. I recollect that our own organisation, CENWOR, responded to the needs of women displaced from their homes by the floods, needs that surfaced form their demand for privacy and security but were not perceived by gender blind administrators.

A major contribution of the book is, fourthly, its practical component, the guidelines that it has spelled out for the two categories of policy makers and practitioners and the check lists it provides to ensure implementation and monitoring. These guidelines not only advocate a shift from a top down bureaucratic approach to a context related, participatory and inclusive perspective. They integrate also the outcomes of its gender analysis in policies and programmes to reduce vulnerability and to develop the capabilities of women as actors and not passive victims, to handle the different phases of mitigation and preparation, preparedness, immediate response, rehabilitation and recovery and follow up or monitoring. These action plans take note of gender roles and relations and encompasses legal measures, education health, livelihoods, access to resources and services and psychological needs.

I hope this effort to promote gender sensitive disaster management in development planning and the empowerment of women will be used by all engaged in policy and action and will hopefully contribute towards achieving the goal of holistic human development.

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Indian imprint

United Nations Development Programme India in New Delhi have decided to do an India imprint of Gender Dimensions in Disaster Management, which was first published in 2003. This is a joint publication of ITDGPractical Action South Asia, UNDP and Zubaan Publisher, India.

The India imprint was launched on 12 January 2005 at the UNDP conference hall in New Delhi.

UNDP has launched Disaster Preparedness Programme over 260 districts and they have recruited teams and they intend to provide this book to these teams for there reference.

With the present crisis the demand for the book has increased as the uses of it are manifold. The discussion at the launch will focus how best the message in the book can be applied in the Asia tsunami rebuilding process. Madhavi Ariyabandu and Maithree Wickramasinghe, the authors of the publication attended in the book launch at New Delhi, India.

Facing Disasters Making Decisions: Gender Dimensions in Disaster Management, 31 March 2005
ITDGPractical Action South Asia introduced the video Facing Disasters Making Decisions: Gender Dimensions in Disaster Management with a view to highlight the importance of gender issues in the wake of tsunami rebuilding.
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