Discussion paper

Women’s voices from the floodplains

Women Australia Queensland Victoria

An economic gender lens on responses in disaster affected areas in Queensland and Victoria.

The needs of women are often overlooked in disaster affected areas. Women often shoulder a disproportionate burden of the effects of disasters, playing a key community rebuilding role as the primary family and community carers. As a result, they have less opportunities than men to look for employment outside the disaster affected areas. This disruption to their economic activity impacts local industries and economies.

Post-disaster, women often bear a heavy workload including clean-up work, subsistence activities and nursing the sick. They are often at the forefront of organising comfort, shelter, fuel, nutrition and water, especially for children and the elderly, as well as mobilising the community to respond to disaster. As a result, they are not only are left with virtually no time for income-generating activities, they also run the risk of being exhausted and overworked.

Despite this, gender concerns are often overlooked, ignored or dismissed as emergency responses take effect and the “tyranny of the urgent” (water in, water out, clean up, rebuilding of infrastructure, etc.) prevails.

On the positive side, women’s disaster response efforts can provide them with new skills they can carry over into the job market, giving them a unique opportunity to challenge and change their gendered status in society.

When disasters hit overseas, international actors often support development strategies that promote market-based opportunities for women, for example by strengthening women’s associations and advocating gender-sensitive business environment reform. There are also examples where women, despite gender-specific barriers, have established viable enterprises based on familial and community networks, e.g. in Sri Lanka and Afghanistan, sometimes changing the gender relations in the family and community. In Australia, however, these strategies are not employed and little is known about the specific economic impacts of disaster affected areas on women.

This report was launched at the National Rural Women’s Conference in Canberra on 19th February 2013.

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