Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

Gender, climate change and natural disasters

By Kellie Tranter - posted Monday, 4 February 2008

The recent spate of “natural” disasters (some of which are “climate related”, some are not) all over the world caused me to wonder whether their effects are evenly spread between the sexes. Logically, human beings of both sexes should react in much the same way to environmental threats, and any differences in the effect of disasters between the sexes should be fairly small.

I was interested to turn up some research that has already been done. I was appalled at what it showed: more women die than men as the direct and indirect result of natural disasters; 90 per cent of the 140,000 victims of the 1991 Bangladesh cyclone disasters were women (PDF 92KB); more women than men died during the 2003 European heat wave; and the 2006 tsunami killed three to four women for each man.

How could that be so?


In a speech in 1999 Lord Hoffman, an English law lord, said “... unless you know the question, you will not be able to get the right answer. Once the question has been identified, the answer is usually relatively easy ...”. That prompted me to think that in order to find out why women are more affected by climate change than men, by first asking "in what ways are women more affected?" we might get some clues as to why women are affected in that way.

Some interesting patterns emerged when I went digging.

In Sri Lanka, swimming and tree climbing are taught mainly to boys; this helped males cope better than females, and allowed more to survive when the waves of the tsunami hit. Social prejudice keeps girls and women from learning to swim, which severely reduces their chances of survival in flooding disasters.

Women often stay indoors because of social prohibitions against leaving home.

In Aceh many women were found dead with babies still clutched in their arms. Some personal accounts by survivors tell of mothers pushing their children to safety on to buildings or up trees that withstood the tsunami, but were then swept away themselves. The long dresses women are obliged to wear under Aceh’s shariah laws made it harder to move quickly. They could not run as fast as men, nor could they swim.

There were stories of some women, who were in their homes but casually dressed when the first wave struck, who ran to put on “acceptable” outdoor clothes before seeking safety, and as a result were drowned or barely escaped.


In times of disaster and environmental stress women become less mobile because they are the primary care-givers.

After a natural disaster, women are more likely to become victims of domestic and sexual violence. They often avoid using shelters out of fear. The household workload increases substantially after a disaster, which forces many girls to drop out of school to help with chores.

Nutritional status is a critical determinant (PDF 968KB) of the ability to cope with the effect of natural disasters. Women are more prone to nutritional deficiencies because of their unique nutritional needs. Some cultures have household food hierarchies, generally favouring males. In Sub-Saharan Africa, women carry greater loads than men, but have a lower intake of calories because the cultural norm is for men to receive more food.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. 2
  4. All

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

38 posts so far.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Kellie Tranter is a lawyer and human rights activist. You can follow her on Twitter @KellieTranter

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Kellie Tranter

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Photo of Kellie Tranter
Article Tools
Comment 38 comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy