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It's time to get serious about gender and early action

  • by Sarah Barr
  • 08 Mar 21

Photo credit: Ben Small, HelpAge International

Blog Post

Women and girls are known to suffer disproportionately during crises and disasters. A recent report by CARE International found 10/11 top humanitarian donors and 5/6 major United Nations agencies to be unsatisfactory in their progress towards their commitments to target 15% of their humanitarian aid to gender equality programming.

The evidence base around gender and early action is growing at Start Network and we are seeing that gender touches every dimension of our early action projects. Data from a forecast-based heatwave project in Karachi showed that men and women access risk information differently. While both men and women mentioned social media as the main channel through which they had accessed heatwave messages, men were more likely to also receive advice about managing extreme heat on the radio, television and through a friend.

Our first external evaluation of crisis anticipation showed that in Nigeria, ahead of an election which was feared to turn violent, men and women also accessed early warning signs from different sources. For example, women noticed the way young people were behaving, claiming they were being used by politicians and causing trouble. Men picked up more on divisions within communities, with neighbours supporting different parties and hearing people say they would fight for their rights.

This matters because different early warning information sources and signs can be of varying quality. Some sources will inevitably be more accurate or timely and therefore more likely to enable individuals to make better informed decisions about how to prepare for an impending crisis. If there are gendered differences at this very initial stage of a crisis, it could put women (or men) on the back foot from the very start.

At Start Network, we have chosen to investigate the gendered dimensions of early action further.

Over the coming months, we will conduct research to understand more concretely how gendered differences may impact a whole spectrum of different decisions and behaviours around crisis planning and response, which are critical to the outcomes of early action programming. We will draw together evidence on how women and men access, interpret and act on risk information differently alongside differences in coping and preparedness strategies. We will then create tools to enable Start Network members to look at these gendered differences in their contexts. This will ensure differences between men and women are accounted for in project planning, and ultimately that all people participating in Start Network projects benefit equally.


Photo credit: Ben Small, HelpAge International

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  • by Sarah Barr