Gender in Early Warning Systems

Gender and diversity issues are critical factors to take into consideration in the development of early warning systems (EWS) for any type of natural disaster, security issue or political crisis. Doing so will both serve to make the EWS more effective and will lead to reduced loss of life and injury.

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Gender and diversity issues are key factors that help determine who is most at risk, who has access to the information needed to generate early warnings, how and to which population groups early warnings are issued and which groups can contribute most effectively in the response and recovery from disasters and crises.

To provide a brief overview of the role that gender and diversity can play in EWS, let’s take a quick look at the key gender and diversity issues you need to take into consideration for each early warning system component.

1. Risk knowledge

Specific groups of women and men, boys and girls are more vulnerable to risk depending upon the type of disaster or crisis concerned. This vulnerability also tends to be very region-specific since gender and diversity factors differ considerably depending upon the cultural context. For example, in the 2004 tsunami in Asia, significantly more women drowned as in the Caribbean, large numbers of both sexes do not learn to swim, making both sexes highly vulnerable to drowning during floods, etc.  

Some key gender and diversity factors to take into account in developing EWS risk assessments include:

  • % of male/female elderly population living on their own without strong family networks
  • urban versus rural location
  • degree of poverty, with more women tending to experience extreme poverty than men
  • physical mobility (e.g., access to private vehicles, physical capacity to walk independently
  • level of education (with their being higher female illiteracy rates in many parts of the world

2. A monitoring and warning service  

Women and men and boys and girls interact with their world and community differently due to their ages and the different roles and type of work they do. Therefore each group has access to different types of information that could serve to inform monitoring and warning services. For example, women often grow different types of crops than men and are more likely to stay closer to their homes. Their observations re changes in rainfall, the land, etc. would be focused on these areas whereas the men in the community are likely to be have more experience with other aspects of what is going on in their communities and with the land. In Sri Lanka, in one community the government has trained women to report on early warning signs of impending mudslides because of the very specific knowledge they have of the area.

3. Dissemination of meaningful warnings to those at risk

Women/ men and girls/boys communicate differently – depending upon their literacy levels, the work they do, how their communities are organized, etc. Therefore it is critical to determine the most effective means of communication for each group to ensure that warnings reach each  m/f group on time. For example, in some parts of South Africa, rural women indicated that their preference for early warnings is for personal contact from extension workers since they seldom have time to listen to the radio.

 
Interview to Dana Peebles, Gender expert

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12.04.2017 Podcast on Gender in Early Warning Systems

In some Caribbean communities the preference is for cars with loud speakers to drive through the streets making announcements or the use of sirens. Depending upon the time of year and day, the fastest and most effective way to reach girls and boys is through their schools.

3. Dissemination of meaningful warnings to those at risk

Women/ men and girls/boys communicate differently – depending upon their literacy levels, the work they do, how their communities are organized, etc. Therefore it is critical to determine the most effective means of communication for each group to ensure that warnings reach each  m/f group on time. For example, in some parts of South Africa, rural women indicated that their preference for early warnings is for personal contact from extension workers since they seldom have time to listen to the radio. In some Caribbean communities the preference is for cars with loud speakers to drive through the streets making announcements or the use of sirens. Depending upon the time of year and day, the fastest and most effective way to reach girls and boys is through their schools.

4. Response Capability

Women and men generally have access to different social networks and resources/assets. These are all factors that affect their levels of resilience and capacity to respond to and recover from a crisis or disaster.  Generally the poorer a person is, the more limited their resilience to recover from a disaster or crisis. Another factor to consider in response capability planning is how to ensure your plan will draw upon both female and male leadership and networks.

While not the only factor to consider in developing and implementing an EWS this brief overview shows that gender and diversity issues can and do play a significant role in EWS.