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Empowering Women and Girls Q1 2023

Every new disaster will push women’s rights further back — unless we act now

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Claire Barnett

Executive Director, UN Women UK

When disaster strikes, the most marginalised groups are hit the hardest. This includes women and girls, who are more likely to lose their lives, livelihoods and access to basic services when a crisis rocks their community.

Crises — from natural disasters to conflict — affect women and girls disproportionately, and we need to act now.

Unique needs after a disaster

In the immediate aftermath of a disaster, as necessities such as food, heating and medicine are unavailable, women and girls are more likely to suffer food poverty and malnourishment because men and boys are prioritised for more nutritious food.

Women, who are often responsible for putting food and water on the table for their families, must travel further to collect these, expending additional calories while taking in fewer.

In the weeks and months following a disaster, women’s critical services such as refuges and counselling for survivors of violence, maternity services and other specialist needs are often the first to be cut.

Single mother-headed households struggle to access money to support the family, as jobs are scarce, and women are less likely to have the qualifications of their male counterparts. When strain is put on societies, domestic abuse rises, and cases of trafficking and sexual exploitation spike.

In times of hardship, female genital mutilation and child marriage are also more likely to be practised, removing more girls from the education system and opportunities for the future.

Single mother-headed households struggle
to access money to support the family.

How we can help women

It is not a coincidence that women and girls are more negatively affected by crises — it is a result of millennia of inequality that is deeply ingrained into our societies and manifests when disaster strikes.

Against this backdrop, UN Women is increasingly shifting its focus into the field, prioritising urgent humanitarian response, such as providing period products, nappies, blankets and cash-for-work for women, combined with normative change so that we are better and more equally prepared for the next disaster.

We can take action, and there is a strong business case for empowering all marginalised groups in co-design processes for our response and preparedness. We need political and business leaders to understand that from plugging the STEM talent gap to creating longer-lasting peace following conflict, gender equality is the most powerful lever they can pull to be resilient in the next disaster. Climate and human rights are not separate issues but are closely interlinked. It is only if we understand this that we can weather increasing challenges together and build a future that leaves no one behind.

To donate to UN Women’s work in the frontlines of the recent earthquakes: unwomenuk.org/campaigns/emergency-appeal-for-women-girls-in-turkiye-syria

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