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  • Rebekka Hemmerling, YuJeong Hwang and Maria Ciechan

Gender Mainstreaming in Disaster Risk Reduction: Lessons from Global Initiatives

A Collaboration with the NGO Girls in Global


In today’s world, the frequency and intensity of natural and human-made disasters, exacerbated by climate change, continue to rise, posing significant threats to lives, livelihoods, and infrastructure worldwide. When a disaster occurs, communities are disrupted, resulting in possible human, economic, and environmental losses. In response to these threats, disaster risk reduction (DRR) has emerged as a critical strategy for mitigating the impacts of disasters on communities, economies, and environments. This can include activities such as hazard identification, risk assessment, disaster preparedness, emergency response planning, and recovery efforts. 

While disasters impact all individuals, it is crucial to recognize that the vulnerabilities experienced by men and women differ significantly and are influenced by social and economic factors such as domestic labor and the role within the community. Women often face limited opportunities to engage in public community activities related to disaster preparedness, response, and recovery. This lack of involvement restricts their ability to voice their concerns, express unique needs, or take leadership roles in shaping disaster management strategies within their communities or workplaces. Therefore, it is essential to enhance gender mainstreaming in DRR and ensure that DRR programs are inclusive and responsive to the diverse needs of community members. This not only improves the efficiency of DRR initiatives but also fosters gender equality and gives agency to marginalized groups, ultimately leading to more resilient and inclusive communities. 

International organizations such as the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction have incorporated gender mainstreaming into their DRR efforts to ensure a gender perspective throughout their programs. Subsequently, the following section presents two case studies and their valuable lessons learned.

Initiative I 

Women often face increased burdens during disasters, tasked with household responsibilities and community roles, yet they traditionally have fewer opportunities to participate in disaster preparedness and response. This imbalance means that their specific needs and potential contributions to disaster management are frequently overlooked. Recognizing these challenges, the Vietnamese government has adopted a range of policies aimed at enhancing gender-sensitive disaster management. This is based on the understanding that gender mainstreaming in disaster risk reduction (DRR) is essential for creating inclusive strategies that address the needs of all community members.

Practical lessons brought together by Vietnam Women's Union illustrate that gender mainstreaming in DRR not only addresses inequality but also enhances the overall effectiveness of disaster management. By involving women equally in the decision-making process and recognizing their unique contributions, communities can develop more comprehensive and resilient strategies to face natural disasters.

Initiative II 

Considering global warming and climate change, which is a major global crisis, women and girls experience a disproportional impact, which exacerbates existing gender inequality. From an economic view, the impact of climate change, such as drought, primarily affects agriculture, which is the main source of income for women in lower and middle-income countries. Also, as the main caregivers of the household, women and girls are likely to stay longer at home without proper ventilation or a cooling system, which makes them extra vulnerable to extreme heat and heat-related illness.

Implementing gender-sensitive policies is a crucial step in addressing climate risk. A prime example of this is the SLYCAN Trust's initiative in Sri Lanka. They have undertaken a capacity-building exercise for policymakers, encouraging them to view climate policies through a gender-sensitive lens. This approach has led to developing evidence-based guidelines for managing heat stress, a significant climate-related issue. Also, to grasp the dynamic socio-economic environment in the country, the research team conducted interviews with people from different backgrounds and further planned to collect data on the different impacts of heat stress in different regions, focusing on vulnerable communities The Asian Development Bank has also taken a proactive stance in promoting gender-sensitive policies. They recently launched an initiative to assist governments in adopting gender-sensitive analysis when developing policies, actions, and investments. This initiative specifically targets five regional countries, aiming to combat the effects of extreme heat.

The main lessons learned from the three aforementioned initiatives are the following:

Lesson 1: Train policymakers to apply a gender-sensitive lens throughout the policy-making process, acknowledging the unequal impact of risks and incorporating gender-specific data in decision-making to ensure policies and programs are based on solid evidence and effectively address the needs of vulnerable communities including women and youth.

Lesson 2: Emphasize the importance of engaging stakeholders and communities in disaster risk reduction (DRR) activities. This includes promoting equal participation of women and men in needs assessments to enhance the effectiveness and accuracy of disaster preparedness and response plans.

Lesson 3: International organizations should assist developing countries with crisis response, risk management, and capacity building. Similarly, local organizations, like the Women’s Union, play a crucial role in water resource management, disaster preparedness, and ensuring timely responses to disasters through their extensive networks.

Lesson 4: Implement training and awareness programs for disaster management professionals on gender issues to strengthen community resilience and ensure that disaster management plans incorporate diverse gender perspectives.

Lesson 5: Develop and implement gender-sensitive disaster prevention and control plans at the community level, particularly focusing on the specific needs of vulnerable groups such as women, children, and the elderly. This approach will not only enhance local climate action but also improve broader policy initiatives.

Lesson 6: Support economic empowerment through initiatives like micro-credit schemes to help women build resilience against natural disasters. These schemes enable women to access safer housing and contribute to stronger community structures.

Lesson 7: Recognize and utilize the invaluable resources that elderly women represent in disaster management due to their knowledge and experience, especially in disaster communication and early warning systems, to boost community preparedness and resilience.e.

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