It is widely recognised in the international literature that women and girls are more vulnerable and suffer more when a disaster occurs. In general, it is also harder for them to recover from its effects. This is particularly relevant in countries where gender discrimination is tolerated in one way or another (UNDP 2010 [1], WHO [2], IUCN [3], UNISDR et al 2009 [4], Enarson and Dhar Chakrabarti 2015 [5]). In 2007, a study by the London School of Economics (LSE), which considered a sample of 141 countries between 1981 and 2002, found that disasters and their impact killed more women than men, especially in the lower socio-economic strata (Neumayer and Plümper, 2007 [6]).

When a disaster occurs, for example, an earthquake or a destructive tsunami, a flood, a fire, etc., “it is assumed” that women should be in the care of the children, support cleaning tasks and organise shelters, take care older adults, etc. defining for them certain roles in the emergency and recovery phase, with the consequent emotional burden and effort that these roles imply. But when children delay returning to school because it has been damaged or used as a shelter, how can working women return to their work? What happens if they are heads of household and have no other source of income or networks supporting them? If they do not work outside the home and their husbands or partners see their jobs compromised, how can they meet their needs or try to go back to normal? When they are in a situation of greater overcrowding in shelters or temporary housing, how can women and girls not be exposed to situations of domestic or gender violence, which increase in these conditions? If “they must be strong for their children”, at what point do they treat their own post-traumatic stress to recover? These and other questions are asked by the different actors who deal with women during and after an emergency.

Both before and after the occurrence of a disaster, the identification of those women who are at greater risk allows generating policies and actions related to risk management that focus on reducing their vulnerabilities and improving their capacity for recovery. Among the groups recognised as most vulnerable in the face of disasters are those women economically disadvantaged (those in a situation of poverty or notably worse off in relation to men of the same age and social or territorial context), those belonging to ethnic or racial minorities (indigenous or migrants, mainly), those women with disabilities or chronic health problems, women who suffer gender violence, older women and girls, etc.

In Chile, although it sounds cliché, the earthquake of 2010 marked a turning point in terms of risk management in many aspects, and several studies gave an account of the reality of women and of some minorities after the disaster (Serrano et al 2011 [7], Rojas 2012 [8], Vitriol et al., 2013 [9], López and Santana 2011 [10], among others). Not only did they realise the vulnerability of women and, particularly, of groups of lower socio-economic resources, migrants, older adults, etc., but also some community recovery initiatives led by women were evident (for example, the Movement for a Just Reconstruction and the Alto Río Foundation), giving an account of the different degrees of resilience of the population in the face of disasters.

Subsequently, various initiatives have been carried out to incorporate the gender approach into risk reduction at the national level, including public policy documents (ONEMI 2011 [11]); the creation of a Gender Equality Ministerial Board in the Ministry of the Interior as of 2011, of which the ONEMI (the National Emergency Office) is part; a Risk and Gender Management Roundtable, an inter-agency initiative also led by ONEMI and, more recently, the definition of the National Standards for Emergency Response (UNDP-ONEMI 2017), which for the first time includes a gender approach, adapting to international standards of the Sphere Project for humanitarian assistance in emergencies.

However, there are still groups that are little or not recognised, both nationally and internationally. Among them are those belonging to the LGTBI community, particularly transsexuals, although abroad work has been done on the subject mainly since the last decade (Gailliard et al., 2017 [12] and Stukes 2014 [13], among others). Can you imagine a transsexual woman requesting a reconstruction grant with her identity card indicating her masculine name? Or trying to prove that she owns a property to ask for a loan to repair her home? Other groups, such as women (and men) with mental disabilities (although there are various policies to reduce the vulnerability of people with physical disabilities or those with reduced mobility) and older women, are also scarcely addressed by public policies related to disasters. In Chile, these last two groups do not even have access to credit, in most cases.

The problem has already been recognised. Now is the time to start looking for solutions and, especially, to implement them. It is not only about equal salaries between men and women, to share roles and to recognise vulnerabilities and try to reduce them, or to focus public policies to support the most affected groups after an emergency. It’s basically about human rights. Equity and inclusion, both in “normal times” and during emergencies, is urgent. Only when we face the issue comprehensively and the different actors commit themselves to addressing gender inequalities around disasters, can we consider Chile as a country that contributes to the resilience of its entire population.

Claudia González Muzzio. MSc in Environment, Science and Society. Specialist on disaster risks and management. Expert from Hay Mujeres. CEO Ámbito Consultores. President at GRID Chile.

[1] PNUD (2010). Gender and Disasters. Ginebra, Suiza, Octubre 2010.

[2] http://www.searo.who.int/entity/gender/topics/disaster_women/en/

[3] https://www.iucn.org/content/how-natural-disasters-affect-women

[4] UNISDR, UNDP and IUCN (2009). Making Disaster Risk Reduction Gender-Sensitive Policy and Practical Guidelines, Ginebra, Suiza, Junio 2009.

[5] Enarson, E. P. y Dhar Chakrabarti, P. G. (2015). Women, gender and disaster: global issues and initiatives. SAGE PUB.

[6] Neumayer, E. y Plümper, T. (2007). The Gendered Nature of Natural Disasters: The Impact of Catastrophic Events on the Gender Gap in Life Expectancy, 1981–2002. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 97(3), 551–566.

[7] Serrano, M., Castro, B., Serrano, P. y Ortiz, V. (2011). Terremoto después del Terremoto: Trauma y resiliencia. Comunidad Mujer, Uqbar editores, Santiago, Chile.

[8] Rojas, C. (2012). Migrantes Internacionales ante la Ocurrencia de un Desastre: El caso de los migrantes peruanos, residentes en la comuna de Santiago, que resultaron afectados por el terremoto del 27F del 2010 en Chile. Tesis para obtener título de Magister en Políticas de Migraciones Internacionales, Universidad de Buenos Aires, Facultad de Psicología.

[9] Vitriol, V., Cancino, A., A, Riquelme, P. y Reyes I. (2013). Terremoto en Chile: estrés agudo y estrés post-traumático en mujeres en tratamiento por depresión grave. Revista médica de Chile, 141(3), 338-344.

[10] López, E. y Sansana, P. (2011). El Terremoto de 2010 en Chile: respuesta del sistema de salud y de la cooperación internacional. Revista Panamericana de Salud Pública 30 (2), 160-166.

[11] ONEMI, Unidad de Programas (2011). Reducción del Riesgo de Desastres con Enfoque de Género: Género, desastres y gestión. Tercera edición. Elaborado por Consuelo Cornejo.

[12] Gaillard, J. C., Gorman-Murray, A. y Fordham M. (2017). Sexual and gender minorities in disaster, Gender, Place & Culture, 24:1, 18-26, DOI: 10.1080/0966369X.2016.1263438

[13] Stukes, P. (2014). A Caravan of Hope-gay Christian Service: Exploring Social Vulnerability and Capacity-building of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex Identified Individuals and Organizational Advocacy in Two Post Katrina Disaster Environments. PhD, Texas Women’s University.