Gender and Early Warning Systems: Lessons from Nepal and Peru

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Women and other marginalised gender groups are more vulnerable to the impacts of disasters. Experiences from Nepal and Peru show that women and gender minorities are often not given enough consideration or opportunity to contribute in the development and implementation of Early Warning Systems. 

Early Warning Systems

Flood Early Warning Systems (EWS), play an important role in reducing the risk of disasters by providing communities with the time they need to prepare for and respond to floods safely. However, disaster risk reduction strategies often overlook the needs, capacities, constraints, and priorities of women and marginalised gender groups.

Very little research exists on gender in flood early warning systems. Practical Action have conducted a study that aims to fill that gap and reviews the ways in which gender is, and is not being recognised and accounted for in early warning systems in Nepal and Peru. 

A community Brigade member points the way towards safe evacuation in Peru.

Disasters affect different gender groups differently 

In contexts where gender inequality, gender norms and social marginalisation are strong, women and other marginalised gender groups are more vulnerable to the impacts of disasters. These impacts range from the immediate term (higher mortality rates for women than men), to the medium term, (higher likelihood of women being displaced or malnourished because of a disaster). 

In the longer term, girls are more likely than boys to be withdrawn from education as the result of a disaster. This is either because girls are not prioritised when a family is unable to afford their children’s education following losses, or increased needs in a household which tend to be taken up by girls (such as caring responsibilities). 

Gender inequality increases disaster vulnerability

The reasons for this greater vulnerability are complex, interlinked and deeply ingrained. For example, lower rates of enrolment and attendance in education for women and marginalised gender groups mean they are less likely to have the income, or control over income, to own resources which would support their resilience, such as mobile phones to receive early warning messages. They may also be less able to read or understand early warning messages as they are more likely to be affected by illiteracy.

When gender norms mean that women are less able to leave the home or participate in public spaces, or where discrimination affects women who are for example elderly, disabled, widowed or transgender, initiatives to build disaster resilience are not accessible. Women and marginalised gender groups may be excluded from vital training and awareness-raising about the risks they face and the actions they can take. At the same time, community groups miss out on the contributions these individuals could make to community resilience. 

Traditional clothing and carrying young children and household items make evacuation extremely difficult

Our findings

We found that marginalized gender groups participate less in EWS initiatives for a variety of reasons. In both Nepal and Peru, male migration for work is common, which in some cases means that women are actually more likely to participate in community EWS initiatives. 

In other cases, the increased workload women experience when men leave the household for long periods means they do not have the time to participate. Many women told us that the demands of their domestic roles alone made it impossible for them to participate. 

We also heard from women whose identities or social status made them fearful of engaging with the community, or feel that they would not be welcome at a community meeting or committee. 

Women consistently told us that when responding to a flood warning they wanted to evacuate as soon as possible. In Nepal, women’s traditional clothing makes it very difficult for them to move quickly in water, so they want to reach a safe shelter before evacuation routes become flooded. In both Nepal and Peru, women tend to carry items needed for evacuation or care for young children or elderly relatives while evacuating, so having as much time as possible to move everyone and everything safely is vital. 

Guidance on developing gender transformative early warning systems  

We have developed this guideline to support early warning and disaster risk reduction practitioners to develop early warning systems which meet the needs of people of all genders, so that we can effectively reach the last mile in building resilience to floods:

If you want to learn more, read our four-page policy brief or the full report: Gender Transformative Early Warning Systems. Additionally, Missing Voices: Experiences of Floods and Early Warning from Marginalized women in Nepal and Peru gives rich insight through first person experiences of flood, disaster risk and early warning of marginalised women.

You can also read more about the background for this research in Alison’s earlier blog

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