Disasters bring a rise in gender-based violence – this study explains why


By AGENCY

File photo of New Orleans after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The disasters led to an increase in violence against women, particularly domestic violence - AFP

From heatwaves and storms to floods, extreme weather events exacerbated by climate change can be harmful to human health. But, according to a new study, these events are also a source of increased violence against girls, women and people from the LGBTQIA+ community.

How can hurricanes or forest fires contribute to an increase in sexist and homophobic violence? According to researchers from the University of Cambridge, who conducted a study published in the journal The Lancet Planetary Health, the driving factors are linked to economic shock, social instability and other factors that contribute to stress in populations.

"Extreme events don't themselves cause gender-based violence, but rather they exacerbate the drivers of violence or create environments that enable this type of behaviour," said Kim van Daalen, of the University of Cambridge's Department of Public Health and Primary Care. Extreme events can both increase new violence and increase reporting, unmasking existing violence, the study says.

The research is a meta-analysis that reviewed around 40 studies on several types of extreme events, such as storms, floods, droughts, heatwaves and wildfires, as well as gender-based violence, such as sexual harassment, physical violence and forced marriage.

One of the concrete examples cited is Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which led to an increase in violence against women, particularly domestic violence. This climatic disaster also had homophobic repercussions. Blamed for the hurricane (which some called "God's punishment"), the gay community in New Orleans was discriminated against by being prevented from accessing aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Transgender people were threatened in shelters or prohibited access, and LGBTQI people experienced physical harm and violence in post-disaster shelters.

The researchers also found that in Bangladesh, spikes in forced marriages coincided with heavy flooding between 1998 and 2004 in the South Asian country. Less expensive due to flood-related impoverishment lowering expectations, these marriages are also perceived as a way to reduce family costs, often to the detriment of young girls who are forced to marry a man, often well before they reach legal adulthood.

"Disaster management needs to focus on preventing, mitigating and adapting to drivers of gender-based violence. It's crucial that it's informed by the women, girls, and sexual and gender minority populations affected and takes into account local sexual and gender cultures and local norms, traditions and social attitudes," says Kim van Daalen.

Examples of on-the-ground interventions cited by the researchers include providing restricted-access shelters and relief services to women and sexual and gender minorities, educating young girls about their rights, and implementing emergency response teams specifically trained in the prevention of gender-based violence. - AFP/Relaxnews

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