Edited Version June 14, 2000 Transcript
EIIP Virtual Online Library Presentation

"Reaching Women and Children in Disasters"

Elaine Enarson
Gender Disaster Network

Avagene Moore: EIIP Moderator

The original unedited transcript of the June 14, 2000 online Virtual Library presentation is available in the EIIP Virtual Library Archives (http://www.emforum.org/vlibrary/livechat.htm). The following version of the transcript has been edited for easier reading and comprehension. Typos were corrected, date/time/names attributed by the software to each input were deleted but the content of questions and responses are as stated by each participant. Answers to participants’ questions are grouped beneath the appropriate question to facilitate meaning.


Avagene Moore: Welcome to the EIIP Virtual Library!

Before introducing our speaker, I would like to inform any newcomers that URL's used in the session are live links (show in blue.) For example, today's background page is at <http://www.emforum.org/vlibrary/000614.htm>. If you click on the URL, the page will come up in your browser window. You may lose the chat screen on the first one; if so, you will find a bar at the bottom of your desktop screen with EIIP Virtual Forum on it. Click on it and the chat screen will come back to your screen.

Please do not send Direct Messages to the Speaker or Moderator. The direct messaging system is distracting and hinders the flow of our discussion.

After our Speaker completes her formal presentation, I will briefly remind everyone of the protocol for Q&A so we don't talk all over each other.


And now to introduce today's Speaker: Elaine Enarson, Ph D, is very involved in disaster management issues. Currently, Elaine is working as an external consultant for the International Labour Organization's InFocus Programme on Crisis Response & Reconstruction. Later this summer, Elaine plans to join the adjunct faculty, Women's Studies Department, University of Colorado at Boulder, and Metropolitan State College Institute for Women's Services and Women's Studies.

Please see the background page referenced earlier for full bio and other information related to today's topic.

Elaine has been with us before to discuss issues related to women and children in disasters. A recent conference (June 4-6) devoted to the topic is the reason we invited Elaine to be with us today. Elaine, I will turn the floor to you now to tell us about the conference and some of the outcomes of your very important meeting. Welcome back, Elaine!


Elaine Enarson: Thanks! And my thanks to all for tuning in. I'm eager to get to the 'chat' section, but will begin by uploading a conference summary.

Reaching Women and Children in Disasters Conference

What are the issues and how can we best address them? Over 70 practitioners, policy-makers, and researchers from North America and around the world met recently in Miami to try to answer these questions. Thanks, EIIP, for this opportunity to let others learn about the event and thanks, too, to our funders whose support made it a truly global conference.

The conference was convened by Betty Hearn Morrow at the Florida International University's International Hurricane Center and by me with the help of many volunteers and funders, including USAID and FIU's IHC. Representing regions and countries with different patterns of development, at risk of very different hazards, and where women and children lead very different lives, participants were united that in disaster events women and children have unique capacities and needs.

We began by asking, "What disaster mitigation, planning, and response might look like if we acted 'as if women and children mattered'?

Speakers urged an inclusive, bottom-up approach addressing the root causes of disaster vulnerability and linking disaster relief to social and economic development. The knowledge, skills, insight, and experience of women, children, and adolescents are essential to this new paradigm. in which gender equality is at the center both of disaster mitigation and sustainable development. Reflecting the global dialogue, many speakers linked the increasing vulnerability of women and children to gendered macroeconomic forces in the process of globalization and unsustainable development, as well as to broad cultural patterns.

To move quickly to a general discussion, today I'll simply summarize some of the issues raised by speakers and alert you that the full conference proceedings will soon be available on-line.

Vulnerability and Impacts

* The higher exposure of women and children to malnutrition and famine, sexual violence, displacement, land mine injury and other effects of sustained complex emergencies;

* The gendered divisions of labor following hurricane Mitch in Central America and masculinity norms increasing men's risky decisions and actions in disaster contexts;

* Mobility barriers, illiteracy, poverty, limited access to land, employment, and survival assets among South Asian women, as well as cultural restrictions restricting their access to information and to public disaster resources;

* The impacts of international debt repayment policies on women and their families;

* Racial/ethnic, economic, and age divisions among women in affluent societies like the U.S. and demographic trends increasing women's representation among the elderly, the poor, and those who live alone;

* Rising numbers of female-headed households in the aftermath of many disasters, and the often conflicting needs and interests of women and men within households;

* Weakened family structures supporting children after prolonged crises in Africa and the extreme vulnerability of street children around the world to violence, abuse, illness, and death;

* Women's risk of unemployment and loss of income-generating work after disaster and restricted access to nontraditional jobs, credit, control over their own or others' labor and time;

* Increased levels of violence after disasters, for example in Nicaragua following hurricane Mitch, and impacts on women's reproductive health when disaster-related economic change forces their migration or relocation.

Women's and Children's Capacities and Resources

* Women's knowledge of water resources in the Pacific region yet their invisibility in emergency management;

* The self-organization of women after disasters, for example, in the Caribbean, to increase small loans to women and to promote gender equity in access to construction jobs during reconstruction;

* Women's initiative in fostering disaster relief which furthers community development, e.g., in Nicaragua after hurricane Mitch or in the Dominican Republic after hurricane Georges, where poor rural women worked through an existing NGO to assess damages and needs, involve the schools, and make sense of the event through music and drama;

* Women's central roles as front-line responders in schools and other institutions, as caregivers to family dependents and others, as community activists and political leaders;

* The resilience of children in extreme events and their capacity for self-organization, for example among the displaced or homeless;

* Children's significance as emergency communicators with parents.

Planning and Policy

* The striking absence across regions of specific regulations, policies, laws, and practical guidelines incorporating gender analysis and the particular needs and interests of women and children into disaster planning and response;

* The need to recognize the household as a complex and variable social arrangement with no presumed male head and no presumed unity of need or long-term interest between adult partners or between adults and children;

* Women's need not only for access to key resources (e.g. seeds for replanting) but for control over key resources (e.g. waged agricultural labor);

* The age-specific needs of young people and models for including child care in disaster relief;

* The need to fully involve teachers and students in light of their roles as informal family educators and disaster communicators;

* The exploitation of women's and children's 'free' labor (as 'non-workers') during the rebuilding period, for example in Nicaragua;

* Lack of planning in sex-segregated societies and others for women who are widowed, displaced, unemployed, and/or impoverished by disasters and subsequently left even more vulnerable to future events;

* Lack of integration of women's issues (e.g., domestic violence) into emergency management studies--and strategies from British Columbia for mainstreaming (e.g., integrating life safety issues in battered women's shelters into evacuation courses);

* Women's under-representation in emergency management programs, organizations, and institutions (especially of women representing highly vulnerable groups) and the need for more 'female-friendly' workplace and study environments in disaster work;

* Forging links between women, disaster planners, and media representatives to increase the visibility of women and children in disaster contexts;

* The clear need for sharing expertise, cross-training between development, relief, and gender organizations, and minimizing the 'tyranny of the urgent' by proactive planning for women and children;

* Lack of integrated services and coordination between emergency management and groups serving highly vulnerable groups (e.g. street children, the landless, senior women);

* The unanticipated consequence of increasing social divisions when programs or services target particular groups.

In addition, a multidisciplinary group of researchers raised such issues as the present lack of relevant institutional data disaggregated by sex and publicly available, the lack of basic research on gender as a factor in women's and men's lives in disaster contexts, and the need for more participatory research employing a range of methods.

The utility of a research protocol for comparative gender analysis in disaster research was discussed, as was the need for collecting and sharing multilingual resources on women, gender, and disaster, for example through a university-based clearinghouse.

What next?

Stay tuned! We met in small groups to formulate action recommendations for research, practice, and policy. These are now being formalized for circulation through electronic networks, at professional meetings, in conference publications, and on the Gender and Disaster Network website <www.anglia.ac.uk/geography/gdn>.

The full proceedings of this conference will also be posted on the GDN website along with a revised international Gender and Disaster bibliography, papers, and other resources.

Good news!

To sustain the energy of this critical mass, we hope to meet again at the regional level. Thank you Kay Goss, FEMA's Preparedness, Training & Exercises Directorate, for taking the initiative and proposing -- among many good ideas -- a follow-up FEMA conference next year on Reaching Women and Children in Disasters.

And now I'm eager to hear from you. Do these issues raised by women around the world seem remote from your own experience or are there parallels here? What has your own experience been in the US and countries like it? What do you think we need more research on, and what changes do you think are needed? Whew--I never trust computers but there you go!

[Audience Questions / Comments]

Avagene Moore: Thanks, Elaine for that fine overview of the conference and the issues surrounding women and children in disasters. As a reminder: If you have a question or comment, please input a question mark (?) to the chat screen, compose your question but wait until I call upon you by name before submitting to the screen. With your cooperation, we will keep the Q&A session under control and make it as meaningful as possible. First question, anyone? Submit ? to the screen. First question of Elaine, please.


Avagene Moore: Elaine, please expand, if you will on your statement, the "tyranny of the urgent" as relates to proactive planning for women and children.

Elaine Enarson: One of the big issues that seems to arise across cultures is the invisibility of gender before the event, when it is most needed. In the emergency period, it's very difficult to suddenly integrate women's needs into vulnerability planning, for example.


Jose Musse: You investigate over woman in child in Central America are available in Spanish?

Elaine Enarson: One of the speakers was Enrique Gomariz from Costa Rica who has studied women's and men's experiences after Mitch for the InterAmerican Development Bank. His findings are available in Spanish, yes. And you can find contact information for him on the GDNetwork, or ask me later. He was great!


Carrie Barnecut: Could you say more about how a more female-friendly workplace would improve the situation?

Elaine Enarson: This was a concept put forward by David Neal at the University of North Texas. He referred to increasing the critical mass of female students, for example.


Avagene Moore: Elaine, I realize some of the studies are global in nature. Do you find the issues similar here in the states?

Elaine Enarson: I think there are many key issues that are cross cultural, such as economic insecurity, women headed-households, violence, women's roles as caregivers, women's informal leadership but I'd prefer to throw that question to the audience. What do you think?


Avagene Moore: Does anyone have a comment? If so, please feel free to input now. Elaine, I imagine the problems are worse in lower income women and children, right?

Elaine Enarson: Economics are certainly a factor, for example regarding access to affordable housing -- a real problem for low-income moms maintaining homes after the Red River flood, for example.


Leslie Little: Elaine, in my work I find that many issues are not being addressed to women with special needs i.e. high-risk under educated, disabled, single family, etc. Is this being addressed?

Elaine Enarson: Leslie, you are so right to point out that women's needs are very different. In my view, we have not done much, regarding either research or policy, with disabled women nor with migrant women, and certainly not with women heading households. I'm a bit more positive regarding senior women, though I'd add that many women live outside nursing homes, where we usually work with senior women.

I'd add that women in public housing, for example, African-American women in South Dade County (FL), and women displaced by violence into battered women's shelters are other women with really acute needs but who are often invisible after events, just as they tend to be before. What do you think?

Lynn Orstad: We have found that outside of Women's Services there is very little information in the "main stream" for emergency managers.


Cam King: Elaine, re: cross culture - have you done anything with the First Nations? I was wondering if you had done any work with the First Nations people or know someone who has?

Lynn Orstad: Cam, We have done work in emergency management with First Nations here in BC. Yes, we have done that here in Vancouver, BC and it is raising the awareness and the needs. Elaine, have you talked about the GDN yet?

Elaine Enarson: Hi again--this has been really confusing--I think I missed most of the discussion. No, haven't mentioned the Gender and Disaster Network. So let me just say quickly that it's a resource for information sharing, has a bibliography, will soon have a working paper series on gender and disaster. And, we hope also photos, narratives, research agendas, etc. Please check it out and consider joining the listserve, too.


Carrie Barnecut: How about American businesses? Can those who have emergency planners be encouraged to mitigate business/disaster related problems of their employees (and or spouses)? I guess I should have said how could American business.

[Note: the remainder of the session was cancelled due to technical problems. Participants may send additional questions to Dr. Enarson at [email protected]]