Why gender matters in emergency management

Gender is a matter of social relations—i.e. social structures with enduring or widespread patterns, rather than an expression of dichotomous biology. Social characteristics, such as gender, cannot be understood in isolation of other social characteristics, such as class, education, disability, age, race and sexuality. As argued by Connell (2010, 6):

‘People construct themselves as masculine or feminine. We claim a place in the gender order – or respond to the place we have been given – by the way we conduct ourselves in everyday life.’

Why is this important in the context of emergency management? It matters for three key reasons.

First, it matters because gendered norms structure women’s and men’s levels of risk tolerance and actions in ways that negate other changing social circumstances (Eriksen 2014).

Secondly, it matters because even when stated policy appears gender aware, institutions reproduce the prevailing values of society more often than they challenge them (Eade 1999; Fordham 2004).

Thirdly, it matters because most institutions are gendered, with internal gender regimes that function in a wider context of gender relations, all of which produce gender effects.

‘Without even being named as gender, a socially-defined masculinity may be built in to the very concept of management or organizational rationality’ (Connell 2008, 242).

It is increasingly recognised in scholarly research internationally that women and men are exposed to risk in different ways at different levels because of the everyday gender divisions of labour and the distribution of power (and thus decision-making processes) domestically, locally and officially.

Gendered norms also underpin intended and actual patterns of disaster preparedness and response (Enarson 2012). For example, while gendered dimensions of bushfire on the surface often appear to reinforce women’s vulnerability to bushfire more so than for men, the findings of my research highlight the increased vulnerability of both women and men because of the activities they tend to perform before, during and after bushfires.

It is important that emergency management considers how both women and men suffer from structural biases when it comes to household decision-making, social constructions of gender, and gendered aspects of agencies that manage disasters, such as bushfire. Disaster awareness and actions are explicitly gendered social experiences. I will explore some of these gendered social experiences in forthcoming blog posts.

This blog post is an extract from Christine’s presentation at the Emergency Management Conference in Melbourne on 1-2 July 2014.

References: Eade, D. 1999. Development with Women. Oxford: Oxfam. | Enarson, E. 2012. Women Confronting Natural Disaster: From Vulnerability to Resilience. Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc. | Eriksen, C. 2014. Gender and Wildfire: Landscapes of Uncertainty. New York: Routledge. | Connell, R. W. 2010. Short Introductions: Gender. 2nd ed. Cambridge: Polity Press. | Connell, R. 2008. “A Thousand Miles from Kind: Men, Masculinities and Modern Institutions.” The Journal of Men’s Studies Vol. 16 (3):237-252. | Fordham, M. 2004. “Gendering Vulnerability Analysis: Towards a More Nuanced Approach.” In Mapping Vulnerability: Disasters, Development & People, edited by G. Bankoff, G. Ferks and D. Hilhorst, 174-182. London: Earthscan.

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