Gender Issues in Disasters

Thanks to Dr. Elaine Enarson, noted researcher on gender issues, for a list of useful resources.

6 thoughts on “Gender Issues in Disasters

  1. Elaine:-
    Ah ha! I was right (my wife might say first time this year); polemic, but in the best sense. I will wade thru these and contact you offline. A point of difference, however. I am rather negative about vulnerability-based approaches in general; they tend to lead to “solutions” that increase dependence on others, hence vulnerability. In this, I’m a strong believer in McKnight’s approach. Doesn’t mean we can’t come to agreement, just that there may be philosophical hurdles to jump. Really appreciate the lengthy and meaty reply.

  2. Claire:-

    At least one of the links is broken. In addition, the Women and Children Last is not a resource but rather a polemic. Is there reliable research that shows that gender is a significant factor in recovery, when economic status, number of dependents and other socioeconomic factors are taken into account?

    Enarson’s narrative seems to imply that women are more vulnerable than men. This flies in the face of studies that show that women are just as resilient (if not more so) than men. That’s why we now have women in combat zones, and soon will have them on the front lines. In my opinion, women in general are no more deserving of special treatment in disasters than men. We do, however, have both moral and practical obligations to help the poor and others with disadvantages. Enarson seems to be saying that just being a woman is a disadvantage; I don’t buy that – I find it an insult to all of you women in our generation who have shown that women are just as capable as men.

    • Ah, John-it’s in the eye of the beholder, no? A polemic to you was, to me, an effort to draw on past research (see references in the piece) in order to anticipate and perhaps forestall some of the negative effects on women that many of us anticipated as Katrina unfolded. Bear in mind that the piece was an Op-Ed for the Denver Post. Indeed, most of the red flags raised were evident in the aftermath of Katrina–and I imagine other researchers will soon be examining these kinds of intersections in light of Hurricane Sandy. For more on the tension between vulnerability and resilience, you might look at the research in The Women of Katrina: How Gender, Race and Class Matter in an American Disaster (David & Enarson, eds, Vanderbilt). In my own recent book Women Confronting Natural Disaster: From Vulnerability to Resilience (Lynne Rienner, 2012) I try to synthesize the empirical evidence looking only at US data. An important point you don’t make is that most of what we have learned about gender in men’s lives has been “through women’s eyes.” We still lack a good holistic understanding of the vulnerabilities as well as resilience that sex, gender, and gender relations add to the mix. It’s important because vulnerability research can (one hopes) inform policy and practice so that recovery strategies do not reproduce vulnerabilities but promote sustainable and inclusive recovery that reduces future risk. You’ll find more practice-based gender-responsive planning guidelines on the website of the Gender and Disaster Resilience Alliance ( and of the global Gender and Disaster Network ( Happy to talk more privately and agreeing here w/ Claire that these conversations are important. I just wish we were sitting at the same table! Cheers, Elaine (

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