Celia M. Howard Fellow

Simon Review Paper #41


The unique needs of women in the context of disaster have been largely overlooked in disaster management. For this reason, women have been hard-hit by natural disasters in the United States and internationally. However, by learning from the mistakes of the past, the negative effects of disasters on women may be mitigated through disaster management that is sensitive to the different needs and experiences of women and men.

Illinois is at risk for a variety of natural disasters including floods, tornadoes, earthquakes, and storms. Some areas of the state, including southern Illinois, are more vulnerable due to social characteristics such as high poverty rates, high rates of single parent households, large elderly populations, and above average rates of domestic violence and sexual assault.

Men’s and women’s experiences of these social vulnerabilities within the context of disaster are different. Research on past disasters has documented the ways that gender-based social roles and social gender equality determine how hard and in what ways women are hit by disasters. More often than not women continue to shoulder the bulk of caretaking responsibilities. Further, women have different needs in regard to health, and safety from violence.

The negative effects of disaster on women and the communities that they reside within can be reduced by preparedness plans that consider the needs of women. Before a disaster hits an area, local leaders should be aware of towns or counties with high rates of gender-based violence, single parent households, and poverty as those women are especially at risk in a disaster. Leaders should also be aware of areas that have a greater than average population of children, the elderly, or disabled persons. Evacuation plans should be tailored with these characteristics in mind.