An argument can be made that the people chosen for any type of planning committee should be a representative sample of the people they are planning for. Yet, women are still widely unrepresented when it comes to disaster planning teams. Whether this is due to a lack of inclusion on the part of those in charge or a lack of interest on the part of women is not a question we’ll be exploring in this post. Instead, we want to talk about five compelling reasons women should participate:
According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, women have unique health care and hygiene needs related to menstruation, breast feeding and pregnancy that come into play during disasters. These needs may be inadvertently overlooked by all male planning teams.
During disaster situations a complex set of factors create an increased risk of psychological, physical and sexual violence for women. To help planning teams reduce this risk and provide women with the education, skills and tools to protect themselves, the National Sexual Violence Resource Center developed a detailed planning guide for preventing and responding to sexual violence in disasters. When women are included in the planning process, these types of issues are more likely to be considered.
For those who subscribe to traditional gender roles (i.e., males as protectors) disaster scenarios present unique challenges. One of the hallmarks of disaster is an immediate overwhelming of societal structure and safeguards, which means self-reliance becomes a necessity. The people we may typically rely on to take charge (e.g., spouses, supervisors, security, police, etc.) may not be physically present or able to assume this responsibility. Women on the planning team can help bring light to this issue and augment training accordingly.
One of the central elements of disaster planning is providing the resources and training each individual will need to act quickly when disaster strikes. Training is far more likely to resonate with women and be more relevant to their needs if women are involved in curriculum development and presentation.
Research by the World Health Organization suggests that women perceive disaster related risk differently from men and play a unique role in disaster recovery. Including women and incorporating diverse perspectives can only serve to strengthen a disaster response plan.
Whether your disaster planning group is made up of employees or family members, the contributions women can make are infinite. If for some reason you are unable to include women and the unique experiences and strengths they bring to your team, the next best option would be to make every effort to encourage their involvement in other ways. Discussions, surveys, interviews and focus groups can be used to assess the concerns, needs and recommendations of the women in your group. In addition to immediate results like improved cohesion and increased peace of mind for all involved, the inclusion of women has the potential to reap rewards beyond measure in terms of increased safety and chance of survival for the women in your group.