By Fadzai Traquino – National Director Women and Law in Southern Africa
The aftermath of the cyclone IDAI in Southern Africa , which has severely affected the Eastern Highlands part of Zimbabwe living several people dead , and hundreds marooned got me thinking about gender related response in emergencies
Disaster situations often lead to of food insecurity, water shortages, loss of income/livelihoods and health concerns but have exacerbated overarching protection concerns. The most vulnerable are exposed to a host of GBV related risks, including physical violence and sexual abuse, as well as often being forced to adopt negative coping strategies (transactional sex, early marriage, accepting unsafe living situations etc.) to meet their most basic needs. These vulnerable people may also experience additional challenges in accessing the necessary support services after they have been exposed to these forms of GBV. Gender-biased attitudes and stereotypes also complicate and prolong women’s recovery from disasters
As we hustle and bustle to provide aid to the most affected – it is important that we are cognisant of the need to integrate gender considerations, to promote the active participation of women in humanitarian response and to incorporate protection strategies against sexual and gender-based violence. Natural disasters and human-made crises are not gender neutral — they have a different impact on women, girls, boys and men. The national gender policy (2013-17) para 5.7 articulates government’s need to “ Ensure national level strategies for climate induced disaster management and risk reduction and coping mechanisms are gender responsive.”
Gender-insensitive operations are less effective because they may not reach a large part of the affected population — often the most vulnerable — or may fail to respond adequately to their specific needs. Moreover, they can expose beneficiaries to serious risks (even life-threatening ones), such as sexual and gender-based violence.
What is gender? -Insert in text box
‘The term gender refers to the social differences between females and males throughout the life cycle that are learned, and though deeply rooted in every culture, are changeable over time and have wide variations both within and between cultures’.7 Gender has a direct influence on roles, relations, vulnerabilities, needs and capacities.
Gender matters in humanitarian assistance because women, girls, boys and men are affected by crises in different ways. They have differentiated needs, suffer from different vulnerabilities, face particular risks, do not necessarily have access to the same resources and services, develop diverse coping or survival mechanisms and possess specific capacities to support their families and communities during and in the aftermath of disasters.
For instance, distribution of non-food items should take into account the specific sanitary needs of women and girls. Also gender is also relevant in humanitarian contexts because sexual and gender-based violence often increases during crises and in post-crisis periods. This can be due to the disruption of law and order, weakening of family and community protection structures, displacement and resettlement or lack of livelihood options.
Sexual exploitation and abuse can also occur. This is a specific form of sexual and gender-based violence resulting from actual or attempted abuse of those in a position of vulnerability. Unequal power dynamics in humanitarian situations create the risk of beneficiaries (especially the most vulnerable) feeling compelled to trade sex for basic provisions. the delivery channels of humanitarian aid can expose beneficiaries to risks, notably sexual and gender based violence, if minimum protection strategies are not put in place.
The Sphere humanitarian standards give some suggestion on how to integrate gender in humanitarian action :
ANALYSE- Analyse the impact of the crisis on women ,men ,boys and girls and what this entails in terms of division of tasks/labour, work and load and access to essential services including water and sanitation services.
ACTION – Take specific action to prevent risks of GBV , and consulting girls and women at all stages of the intervention to reduce incidences of violence. Ensure women and girls ,men and boys participate equally in the design and implementation , in monitoring and evaluation of humanitarian action .
ACCESS – ensure access to WASH services, Food and non food items in a manner that preserves and safeguards dignity
PARTICIPATION – Encourage an equal representation of women and men in the committees and in the trainings .
TARGET – Based on the gender analysis , make sure that women , girls , men and boys are targeted with specific action when appropriate and respond to the specific hygiene needs of menstruation through provision of facilities and female hygiene kits
Lastly service providers should share with beneficiaries their Anti-corruption measures including an active whistle blowing line so that beneficiaries can access justice and remedies in the event of violations .