Changing the way we think about women and men in disasters: The Gender and Disaster Network
Submitting InstitutionNorthumbria University Newcastle
Unit of AssessmentGeography, Environmental Studies and Archaeology
Summary Impact TypeSocietal
Research Subject Area(s)
Medical and Health Sciences: Public Health and Health Services
Studies In Human Society: Policy and Administration
Summary of the impact
Research disseminated through the Gender and Disaster Network (GDN) has
played a pivotal role in changing attitudes and increasing recognition of
the importance of gender-insensitive disaster policy and practice. GDN is
an international collaboration between Northumbria University, UN agencies
and US and Swiss government agencies that distributes research-led
resources through an open access website (www.gdnonline.org)
co-ordinated by Dr Maureen Fordham at Northumbria. GDN resources are used
internationally by practitioners in the United Nations, national and local
governments, and non-government and corporate business organisations.
Gender analysis is now routinely incorporated in training for disaster
management and risk reduction and this is seen in official UN documents,
for example the guidance published in 2009 `Making Disaster Risk Reduction
Gender-Sensitive: Policy and Practical Guidelines' for which Fordham was a
Currently, more than 300 million people are affected annually by
humanitarian crises and it is predicted that vulnerability and
humanitarian needs will increase significantly within the coming decades.
During the 1990s Fordham and a small group of applied disasters scholars
became aware of a shortcoming in the practice of disaster management
concerning the differential impact of disasters on men and women. Women,
it seemed were disproportionately impacted by disaster but were often
invisible in humanitarian practice, and were often denied a voice in
recovery after disasters.
Before the 1990s, discussion of "gender" or "women" was rarely present in
hazard and disaster journals. The early gender and disaster researchers
drew from work in the development studies field to inform and influence
the dominant forms of disaster research in the natural hazards paradigm
and the sociology of disasters which were largely gender-insensitive [3.1,
3.2]. Fordham was the first to apply this gender lens to the UK as part of
research for the EUROflood Project (1992-96) [3.7 and 3.8], during her
time at Middlesex University.
In 2002 Fordham moved to Northumbria, and significantly expanded and
developed her work in this field, for example making a political case for
explicitly addressing gender equality in disasters due to the increased
likelihood of violation of women's rights [3.4], and demonstrating in
joint work with Professor Collins that it is beneficial to recognise and
involve children in disaster risk reduction strategies [3.5]. Subsequent
to her move to Northumbria Fordham was also a key partner in two
successful EC Framework Programme research projects, MICRODIS (2007-11)
[3.8] and emBRACE (2011-15) [3.9]. Both of these projects aim at
understanding and building resilience amongst communities in Europe and
Asia at risk of, or struck by, disasters and include specific reference to
gender issues. Key findings of gender and disaster studies by Fordham and
others addressed inter alia: re-balancing the disempowering effects of
representing women as always vulnerable through recognising women's rights
and their positive and active role in creating community, household and
individual gains in disaster risk reduction; the specifically gendered
conditions of men; and, most recently, considerations of sexual
While Fordham and collaborators have published extensively in the
academic literature on gender analysis, most research and outreach has
been targeted at practitioners, donors and decision- makers through
reports and direct learning exchanges via policy meetings and workshops.
The development of gender and disaster research as a collaborative and
applied venture, aiming to generate broad and meaningful impact in
disaster-prone areas in both developed and developing countries, grew out
of an early recognition of a dissemination gap. Key material, critical to
the survival and equal treatment of women and children in disasters, had
to be made available to all practitioners and policy makers. The
foundation in 1997 and subsequent development of the Gender and Disaster
Network (GDN) by Fordham and other international scholars and
practitioners was a direct response to this issue. A key goal of GDN was
to "foster information sharing and resource building among network
members". This led directly to the development of the GDN website, www.gdnonline.org,
by a strong volunteer base, and later supported (financially and in kind)
by Northumbria University, the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance
(USAID), UNDP, UNISDR, UN Women, and the Swiss Agency for Development and
References to the research
Selected peer-reviewed publications:
[3.2] Fordham, M. (1999) `The intersection of gender and social
class in disaster: balancing resilience and vulnerability' International
Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters, 17(1). http://nrl.northumbria.ac.uk/id/eprint/2855
[3.3] Comfort, L., Wisner, B., Cutter, S., Pulwarty, R., Hewitt, K.,
Oliver Smith, A., Weiner, B., Fordham, M., Peacock, W. and
Krimgold, F. (1999) `Reframing Disaster Policy: The Global Evolution of
Vulnerable Communities', Environmental Hazards, 1(1), 39-44. http://dx.doi.org/10.3763/ehaz.1999.0105
[3.5] Manyena, B., Fordham, M. and Collins, A. (2008) `Disaster
resilience and Children: Managing food security in Binga District in
Zimbabwe', Children, Youth and Environments, 18(1), 303-313. http://nrl.northumbria.ac.uk/id/eprint/1443
[3.6] Gaillard, J.C., Wisner, B., Benouar, D., Cannon, T., Dekens, J., Fordham,
M., Gilbert, C., Hewitt, K., Kelman, I., Lavell, A., Morin, J.,
N'Diaye, A., O'Keefe, P., Oliver-Smith, A., Revet, S., Sudmeier-Rieux, K.,
Texier, P., Diderot D. and Vallette, C. (2010) `Alternatives pour une
réduction durable des risques de catastrophe' (Alternatives for sustained
disaster risk reduction), Human Geography, 3(1), 66-88. http://hdl.handle.net/2292/13780
Examples of research grants consolidating this theme:
[3.7] EU FP4 Environment Programme (1992-1996). EUROflood 1: Improving
Flood Hazard Management Across Europe (EV5V-CT93-0296), £810,000 (£265,000
awarded to the Flood Hazard Research Centre, Middlesex University: Fordham
was Technical Coordinator).
[3.8] EU FP4 Environment Programme (1992-1996) EUROflood 2: The
Management of the consequences of climate change: extreme sea surge and
runoff events (EV5V-CT93-0296), £1,263,103 (£276,088: Fordham was Joint
[3.9] EU FP6 Global Change and Ecosystems (2007-2011), MICRODIS -
Integrated health, social and economic impacts of extreme flood events:
evidence, methods and tools, (GOCE-CT- 2007-036877), £ 3,523,337 (£370,606
[3.10]FP7-ENV-2011 (2011-2015), emBRACE — Building Resilience Amongst
Communities in Europe (Project 283201), £2,780,245 (£414,782 to
GDN peer-reviewed outputs:
[3.11] Gender Notes series: Detailing challenges and opportunities for
action around specific topics, such as `Hazards and Hazard Mitigation',
`The Hyogo Framework for Action' and `Men and Masculinities'.
[3.12] Research papers such as `WOMEN, GIRLS AND DISASTERS: A review
for DFID' by Sarah Bradshaw and Maureen Fordham,
August 2013 https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/236656/women-girls-disasters.pdf
[3.13] The Gender and Disaster Sourcebook: An electronic guide and
repository answering critical advocacy questions addressing the link
between gender equality and disaster risk, the lessons learned through
research and how this knowledge can be applied in practice to reduce risk
and respond equitably to disaster events.
Grants to develop GDN:
[3.14] Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance United States Agency
for International Development and the United States Department for
Agriculture (2007-2012) Development of the Gender Disaster Network, £142,700.
[3.15] UNDP (2007-2010), Gender and disaster risk reduction training
awards in Sri Lanka, Nepal and Indonesia. £15,150.
[3.16] Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) (2010-2012)
Details of the impact
Increasingly, and in response to the research and outreach of the GDN,
academic, policy and practical work has begun to include a gendered
analysis; highlighting inequalities, inequities and inefficiencies in
humanitarian practice. This has resulted in recognition in government and
agency policies of the increased risk, vulnerability and impoverishment of
many millions of women around the world before, during and after
disasters. The research undertaken by Fordham and others in the field has
been applied by actors seeking to change conditions on the ground for
vulnerable people, especially women and girls. Key impacts described in
this section are therefore on policy and practice.
the GDN open access website, allows the exchange of knowledge, resources
and training material towards the aim of empowering women and children in
particular to survive and then rebuild their lives following natural
disasters. The website is run by Fordham and the accompanying members'
email discussion list is hosted by the United Nations International
Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR), and has been supported by
Northumbria University since 2002. Background indicators of web-site
- In the year March 2012 to April 2013 the website received nearly half
a million hits with 1,828,365 pages viewed. Visitors came from six
continents and over the last three years have included web hits from
over 80 different countries, including Australia, Brazil, China, Japan,
Indonesia, South Africa and Ukraine.
- The registered membership list has grown from a recorded 592 members
in 2008 to 1,082 registered members on 22/04/2013. Of those who have
listed their details in the Browse Members section (290), it shows the
members include: practitioners in the United Nations system (6%)
including UNDP, UNAIDS and UN Women; national and local governments and
donors (9%) including Canada, USA and Nepal; Non-Government
Organisations (NGOs) (32%) including CARE, Plan and Oxfam; the private
sector (3%); Community-Based Organisations working in disaster contexts
(CBOs) (4%); academic researchers (26%); independent scholars and
consultants (21%); the membership is drawn from several continents.
- USAID/OFDA has funded the development of Gender and Disaster Network
Regional Hubs in: North America; Latin America and the Caribbean; the
Pacific-Oceania region; and Africa (further supported by North-West
University South Africa), indicating the broad international reach of
The primary purpose of the website is to host and act as a distribution
hub for gender and disaster resources. These documents and links, posted
by users, are peer-reviewed by members and utilised by actors in the
disaster risk reduction field. In addition to foreign language posts, core
resources have been translated into Urdu, Tamil, Creole, Portuguese,
French and Spanish. Resources are regularly updated, to meet specific
regional requirements, for example, UN Women Pakistan provided support to
increase the scope and volume of the widely-used South Asian resources.
The success of the online resource has led to a number of exemplar
training courses that reflect the impact of the online resource. In 2008
Plan International arranged training for Plan staff in El Salvador,
Bangkok and London on resilience and disaster risk reduction with an
emphasis on child protection and gender equity [Corrob. 5.2]. This
training used resources developed by GDN based on research by Fordham. 12
staff attended this training, as well as testing the ideas with local
people in three Salvadorean communities. The UNDP commissioned training
based on GDN research to build gender mainstreaming capacity in national
governments, UNDP Country Offices and local NGOs in many parts of Asia [Corrob.
5.1]. In 2008 training sessions were run in Nepal (with 28
trainees), and in 2009 in Indonesia (with 26 trainees). In 2010 UNDP
commissioned Fordham and GDN to design a training manual on `Gender and
DRR for UNDP BCPR', for use in 5 UN Regions: Africa; Arab States;
Asia and Pacific; Europe/CIS; and Latin America and Caribbean [Corrob.
Following the advocacy work of GDN international policy increasingly
considers the importance of gender in disaster management and risk
reduction. Specific examples include:
- `UNISDR 2007 Words into Action: A Guide for Implementing the Hyogo
Framework'. Fordham was one of a small team of gender experts
charged with contributing a gender analysis to this document on behalf
of GDN, the impact of which has occurred since publication [Corrob.
- `UN 2009 Making Disaster Risk Reduction Gender-Sensitive: Policy
and Practical Guidelines, UNISDR, UNDP and IUCN'. Fordham was the
GDN contributor [Corrob. 5.4]. The Senior Communications Officer
at UNISDR has worked with Fordham to feed related material into the
International Day for Disaster Reduction 2012.
- GDN also works closely with GenderCC Women for Climate Justice and
WEDO. Together these groups contributed to policy advocacy and
interventions at UNFCCC meetings including Bali (2007), Poznań, Poland
(2008) and Rio+20 (2012).
- In 2011 the UNECOSOC Commission on the Status of Women adopted a
resolution on `Mainstreaming gender equality and promoting
empowerment of women in climate change policies and strategies'.
- In 2012 GDN were invited to contribute to the Asian Ministerial
conferences and policy development initiatives. Fordham was a Gender
Core Group member for the drafting of the gender annex to the
declaration on Disaster Risk Reduction [Corrob. 5.5].
Sources to corroborate the impact
[5.1] Training for UNDP: `Training Manual on Gender and DRR for UNDP
[5.2] John Twigg 2009 `Characteristics of a Disaster-Resilient Community:
A GUIDANCE NOTE, Version 2' (Footnote 13, p19) http://community.eldis.org/.59e907ee/Characteristics2EDITION.pdf
[5.3] UNISDR 2007 `Words Into Action: A Guide for Implementing the Hyogo
Framework. Geneva: UNISDR' http://www.unisdr.org/files/594_10382.pdf
(p ii Acknowledgements).
[5.4] UN 2009 `Making Disaster Risk Reduction Gender-Sensitive: Policy
and Practical Guidelines, UNISDR, UNDP and IUCN'. Geneva, Switzerland,
June 2009 http://www.preventionweb.net/files/9922_MakingDisasterRiskReductionGenderSe.pdf
(see Acknowledgements p iii).
[5.5] Gender annex to the declaration from the 5th Asian Ministerial
Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction, October 2012 http://5thamcdrr-indonesia.net/
[5.6] Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) for Disaster
Risk Reduction and Head of UNISDR corroborates claims of impact of GDN
website and wider network on disaster policy and practice.
[5.7] Partnerships Advisor, UNDP BCPR, corroborates claims of impact of
gender mainstreaming training based on Fordham's research.
[5.8] Global Gender Advisor, Oxfam, corroborates impacts of GDN website
on policy and practice of Oxfam.
[5.9] DRR and Resilience Adviser, Plan UK, corroborates impacts of GDN
resources derived from Fordham's research on Plan International training
on child protection and gender equality.
[5.10] Senior Communications Officer, UNISDR, corroborates impacts of GDN
research on UNISDR reports and policy documents.