Learn more about the work of women and gender inequality in disaster risk management in the DRM PPG's #IWD22 feature.
To mark International Women's Day 2022 the DRM PPG Committee spoke to practitioners in the sector about gender inequality and their work
Catherine Farnworth, FIA CERA - Chief Risk Officer at Property, Commercial and Speciality (re)insurer IQUW
A significant part of Catherine’s role is to manage risk the company is exposed to from global perils as well as leading the company’s response to ESG including the management of risks from climate change and supporting the company’s customers as they move towards a low carbon economy.
Naomi Morris, WHO consultant
Noami is a WHO consultant, working initially for the WHO Global Health Cluster as the Information Management Team Lead. Effective emergency response comes from collaborative efforts that harness the potential of quality information, and its management before, during and after the event, informing, and ensuring accountable evidence-based decision making by empowered local authorities and affected communities.
Judith Ellison, Catastrophe Modelling Manager, JBA Risk Management Limited
Judith joined JBA as a Catastrophe Modelling Manager in 2020, working with their climate change team on flood risk and climate change strategy. Her work has included updating the company's leading UK Climate Change Flood Model and developing the Climate Change Analytics data suite.
Prior to joining JBA, Judith worked at Guy Carpenter and then as a Senior Catastrophe Modelling Manager at MS Amlin, driving technical methodologies used to assess natural hazards, including flood.
Emily helps Flood Re understand and manage the cost of flooding, and past work helping developing countries manage the financial impacts of disasters.
Alena Dutková, Aon – Impact Forecasting
During my studies of geography at the Charles University in Prague I studied natural disasters. At that time, it was just a few years after the storm Kyrill hit a large portion of Europe as well as Czech Republic, which started my interest in this subject. Following my graduation I started work for Aon Impact Forecasting in the Prague office. Impact Forecasting is a catastrophe model development center within Aon. As part of my role I develop hazard and risk data based on the Impact Forecasting models as well as helping clients to make use of our data. Our clients are mainly insurance and reinsurance companies, but we are involved in projects for governmental or financial institutions like World Bank too.
I think that inequality of impacts around the world from disasters and conflicts between women and men varies significantly among different social backgrounds. The lower socio-economic status women have in their community, the bigger gender inequalities in the disaster or conflict will occur. For example, according to the UN, women represent 80% of people displaced by climate change globally. They’re also 14 times more likely to die in a climate event according to PwC, Business Fights Poverty, and the WOW programme.
Social problems during a crisis very often intensify and the larger the problem was before the more likely it is to intensify in a crisis and afterwards, when security forces are disrupted. Consider the COVID-19 pandemic. Women accounted for 54% of overall job losses, despite making up only 39% of global employment, according to McKinsey.
We should work on identification of social issues between men and women within a community and spread a public awareness of these issues. The more we are aware of problems the better we can respond. The lack of awareness is also a result of a lack of data.
We must learn from previous experiences and apply the precaution measures for the future. I think that these measures must come from two directions. Good education system, which identifies risks within the communities is one of them. We should make sure that women and men have the same access to the information. Secondly, governments should appoint resources to identify gender issues and include them in planning of the emergency response and early warning system. Engagement of both women and men in the decision making and event response coordination can help too.
There are also numerous action steps, that individual industries – including insurance – can take to elevate women in the workplace. For example - Aon in collaboration Women+ in Climate Tech is working on a whitepaper, which explores ideas on strategies to leverage gender equity as a value proposition, both operationally and in support of efforts to meet impending climate risk disclosure and net zero mandates. To learn more about these ideas, register for our upcoming webinar: Gender equity, climate risk, and getting to net-zero faster.
Clarissa Rios Rojas, Centre for the Study of Existential Risk
I am a molecular biologist and after my PhD, I decided to jump into the science diplomacy and government science advice world. I now work at the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk at the University of Cambridge where I conduct research on the risks coming from emerging technologies and I also build science-policy interfaces that can provide scientific evidence and advice to different policy stakeholders (academia, public sector, businesses and civil society). I have worked closely with different international organisations building programs for women economic empowerment (UN Women), writing white papers on policy for economic transformation (WEF's Future Councils), collaborating on the production of reports on Foresight (G20, WHO), advising the new scientific agenda for the Sendai Framework (UNDRR/ISC), leading Science Government Advice workshops (Global Young Academy/INGSA), mentoring scientists in the Global South (UN's Biological Convention Program), among others.
The academic global catastrophic risks community would benefit greatly from having more experts and thought leaders that are women and that come from the global south. The report Women as Forces for Change by the United Nations Regional Centre for Peace, Disarmament and Development in Latin America and the Caribbean compiles a great variety of the work that women from Latin America are doing in the field. These women are also role models for younger generations that are interested in the field of disarmament, conflict resolution, global risk and peacebuilding. There is a lot of professional talent in the Global South that can contribute to international ongoing efforts for preventing disasters (natural or human-made), We simply need to be part of the conversation and have doors open to us to demonstrate our ideas and work.
Capacity building for men and women about gender equality, a quota for the participation of women in local/national and international efforts on disaster management, sharing of best practices about women’s efforts on peacebuilding and conflict resolution (there are plenty of known cases but they are not shared/taught to other parts of the world) and more financial support for women from low and middle-income countries who are interested in studying careers aligned to this field.
Dr Carina Fearnley, UCL Warning Research Centre
My career has been varied and diverted. Academically I studied BSc Geology and an MSc in Mining at Imperial College London. Following this I worked in London City’s financial sector at Goldman Sachs and then at a stockbroker working with junior mining companies. Following the Boxing Day tsunami across Indonesia and the Indian Ocean in 2004 I was astonished at how science was not being put into practice via warnings to help save lives. Inspired by a desire to improve warnings for hazards I completed PhD at the UCL Hazard Research Centre on volcano warning systems. Following this I had a lectureship position at at Aberystwyth University, before returning to UCL as in the Department of Science and Technology Studies. Following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic I have once again have been astonished at the lack of interest in using warnings to prepare against threats and societies and therefore along with my deputy director Prof Ilan Kelman, we founded the UCL Warning Research Centre. This is the first and only warning centre in the world dedicated to brings together expertise from across a range of disciplines, geographies, and social and livelihood contexts to help establish more effective warnings which are more connected to and used by people for a range of natural, human, and technological hazards. As Director of the UCL WRC my responsibilities now include managing and running the WRC, building new relationships and collaborations, as well as running training courses, writing articles and reports, working on grants, and consulting work. This is on top of the usual duties of teaching, research, and administrative roles within my department and university.
Gender inequality during disasters remains significant. Gender still remains excluded from much policy on disaster risk reduction, and the issues of gender need to be addressed from a bottom up approach, or in warnings via the first mile. In practice, women’s voices, needs, and considerations are frequently not included in the development and operation of a warnings system. In many countries women remain the key childcarer, elderly parent carer, and homemaker and this makes them most vulnerable due to their duties and care, and inability to be mobile. Significant work is needed to fight gender inequalities in society to facilitate further dialogue, integration, and consideration in developing more inclusive, and ultimately more effective warnings that not only save lives, but also help build resilience and mitigate against the impact of hazards and threats that after quality of life. As such tackling gendered risk demands both a reconceptualisation of the concept of ‘disaster', and for disasters to be further integrated within development, as supported by the UN Sustainability Goals.
Policies and interventions that are developed, implemented, and actioned by a diversity of genders and other groupings is vital for any warning system to be effective. Without the input of the ultimate ‘customer’ of the warning system it cannot be designed or used to accommodate the needs of all. Gender inequalities are researched by UCL WRC member Maureen Fordham, Professor of Gender and Disaster Resilience. She founded the UCL IRDR Centre for Gender and Disaster and has contributed significantly in highlighting the need for breaking down silos and to think outside the box, to think ‘intersectionally'. Fordham states that "Gender Responsive Resilience GRR is not always & only about women, it’s not always and only about vulnerability, it’s not always and only about blame, but it is always, fundamentally, about inclusivity, rights and justice". This ultimately means we need to fundamentally address our socio, economic and cultural inequalities to help build resilience, and reduce gender inequality for all threats and hazards.
Jonathon Gascoigne, Centre for Disaster Protection
A through-line on what has been a wide-ranging portfolio career has been understanding threats and designing mitigation for the impacts of environmental risks on society, from access to London greenspace to global catastrophic hazards. A masters in spatial analytics (before PhDs were required) allowed my curiosity to range over many subject matter areas. My current role focusses on promoting best practice in financing low income countries and communities to become more resilient to crises, particularly with climate shocks in mind. A key part of this work is assessing the fitness for purpose of disaster risk finance policies and instruments in terms of attaining development goals to meet people’s needs, as well as technocratic efficiency of schemes.
There is a multitude of evidence showing that girls and women are disproportionately adversely affected across all stages of the disaster cycle, from preparedness through to response and recovery, as shown by dramatic differences in mortality by gender. The impact of natural hazards is dependent to a significant degree on economic, cultural and social relations, particularly in relation to poverty, which is not gender neutral. The socio-economic status of women is influenced by inequality of access to education, work, finances, and health services. For example, women can miss alerts from early warning systems as they are more likely to be home-bound attending to family care. Boys might receive preferential treatment in rescue efforts. Women may also be exposed to the risk of harassment and sexual violence.
The UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 5 seeks to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. There are several practical ways to improve inclusiveness in disaster risk finance, the first step being gender-responsive risk analytics, as with the collection of sex-disaggregated statistics to be able to measure inequalities. For example, gender of head of household has proved to be a key indicator of social vulnerability of communities to welfare impacts from drought. Other vulnerable and marginalised groups also require such survey recording. Communication activities around contingency planning, such as evacuation facilities, should also be explicitly gender-appropriate. Pre-arranged payouts from triggered schemes should consider the provision of safe and secure temporary shelter, sanitary products, maternal and neonatal health care, and livelihood support. Ideally, participatory and inclusive feedback loops would also be incorporated to allow missing local voices to be heard.
Finally, its remarkable to see how quickly the notion of ‘manels’, all-male panels that perpetuate the under-representation of women, has become unacceptable, even in such traditional bastions as the finance industry. The UK geographical sciences and humanities have long had a healthy gender balance and it’s great to see how this has percolated, albeit slowly, into job opportunities and subsequent leadership roles across many employment sectors
Dr Nicolas Pondard, Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences (GNS Science), New-Zealand
I am a senior disaster risk management (DRM) specialist, currently working in academia. I have twenty years of international experience leading DRM projects, both in low- and high-income countries, and worked directly for development organizations, government, and industry. I specialize in risk assessment, disaster preparedness, risk financing, and international development.
In my view, gender inequality is a systemic issue when it comes to disaster risk. To give a simple example, new technology allows for early-warnings to be communicated directly through mobile phones. This is a great innovation allowing mobile phone owners to go to safety faster. Unfortunately, women are not allowed to own mobile phones in many communities worldwide, because society is organised using a patriarchal structure. This structure prevents them access to a crucial resource that could potentially make the difference between life and death.
Interventions are needed though all aspects of risk management, including technical, operational, and institutional. From a technical perspective, collecting exposure data broken down by gender would help quantifying the impacts of disasters in a more targeted way. Strengthening operational capacities adapted to women is crucial, such as providing them with appropriate means to receive early warnings (if I reuse my previous example). Also, including women in the governance process would help making more adapted risk management decisions.
I think a lot of this has to do with my upbringing. Despite having 3 brothers, I was always treated equally and encouraged to achieve in my chosen area of interest – science and the environment. Today my focus is developing solutions to the challenges of natural perils in a changing climate – a role that provides great purpose. Prior to joining JBA, I developed extensive experience in catastrophe modelling and exposure management within the re/insurance sector at MS Amlin and Guy Carpenter. My first role after graduating was to provide geo-services to a broad range of sectors and it's nice to have come full circle. JBA Risk Management has always employed a greater proportion of women than men at all levels.
Given my interest in climate change its distressing but important to recognise that women are more vulnerable to the impact of a changing climate. In developing regions, where women are poorer, they are more dependent on the natural resources that are susceptible to climate change. At the same time they face greater political, economic and social barriers. For instance its more likely that girls will skip school to help with day to day challenges such as gathering wood and water. Climate change can deepen existing inequalities. It’s rewarding to know that JBA is actively supporting sustainable development, climate resilience and environmental safeguarding.
Whilst women can be more vulnerable, they are far from helpless, for instance showing resilience by leading climate action movements. But interventions are also required a national levels to ensure gender is at the heart of climate change initiatives including national climate change adaption plans and involving women in the key decision processes. Empowering women, who make up half the population, will surely lead to more effective climate solutions - for instance, research indicates that nations with more women in parliament are more likely to ratify international treaties that support the environment.
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Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) (2022) DRM PPG: International Women's Day 2022. Available at www.rgs.org/DRMPPG/IWD22. Last accessed on: <date>
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