Resource guide

The differential impact of drought and floods on gender relations

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The differential impact of drought and floods on gender relations

Droughts have direct impacts on rural livelihoods though crop failure or lower yields, which can lead to urban migration, hunger and in extreme cases starvation, and indirect consequences when, for example, water scarcity can lead to the spread of disease because of inadequate safe water for human consumption, sanitation and hygiene. Floods are recurrent phenomena in many parts of the world and some types of floods, for example, periodic riverine floods, can have positive impacts: the maintenance of ecosystems and biodiversity in floodplains and deltas; ensuring fish migration and groundwater recharge; riverine transport; and access to fertile soils. In recent decades, the effects of increasing population, unplanned urban settlements, deforestation, removal of wetlands, and inappropriate structural solutions have resulted in floods – especially urban flash floods - that have had serious negative impacts on livelihoods, land use, houses and public infrastructure in both developing and developed countries. Although there are limited sex-disaggregated data on the impact of floods and droughts, there is a growing body of qualitative and quantitative empirical material on gender-differentiated impacts, as summarized below:

Economic impacts

Increased time spent on unpaid work

  • Women spend more time and energy on domestic water collection in drought- prone areas which affects the time available for productive work (Enarson, 2000);

  • Women’s workload increases after a flood as they have to help with house repairs, cleaning and maintenance in addition to their routine work (Nasreen, 2000).

  • Loss of assets and entitlements

  • Women farmers lose food security when floods destroy their land, seeds stored and livestock;

  • Families may be forced to sell household assets or pawn women’s jewellery;

  • Food consumption patterns and access to food may be gender differentiated.

  • Reduced opportunities available for productive work

  • In both rural and urban flood-prone areas women labourers may lose sources of paid work as fields or workplaces are inaccessible (Enarson and Morrow, 1998);

  • Women who do not migrate often end up doing government drought relief work which is very arduous and impacts their health (Fernando and Fernando, 1997);

  • Seasonal or long-distance male out-migration puts an added burden on women to manage land often without the security of tenure or access to critical inputs.

  • Social impacts

  • Education

  • Extended drought years can have an impact on enrolment/retention rates;

  • In flood-affected areas schools remain closed until waters recede, while schools located on higher land may be used as temporary community shelters.

  • Health, hygiene, water supply and sanitation

  • During drought periods limited water available for personal hygiene affects women’s ability to bathe regularly, particularly during menstruation;

  • Limited access to sanitation after floods compels many women, especially the elderly, to eat and drink less to avoid going through the arduous task of finding a safe place for defecation or urination, leading to an increased incidence of UTI-related diseases;

  • Often girls in community shelters go in groups as it provides more security in an uncertain environment.

  • Conflicts and gendered violence

  • An increase in conflicts between women at water queues in drought prone areas has been well documented (see:;

  • Marginalised women, such as dalits and adivasis in India face additional sexual harassment (Malekar 2000) and are often pushed into sex work.

Adaptive strategies: building community resilience

Historically, women and men in drought and flood-affected communities have evolved their own strategies and coping mechanisms to prepare their families, protect assets and ensure livelihood security. These include seed storage and the preparation of dry foods to support families during floods and for cultivation later. Community-based natural resource management initiatives can be developed around soil and water conservation (e.g. watershed management). Livelihood diversification, whether into non-farm based micro-enterprises or seasonal migration, is also an important strategy for generating income to prepare for drought or flood (Little et al., 2004; Verhagen and Bhatt, 2003). Drought proofing, such as roof rainwater harvesting in the semi-arid Jordan Valley and the high plains of East Africa, South and Southeast Asia has had a significant impact on household water security (

NGOs and other civil society organisations play an important role in enabling households and communities to acquire skills, assets and resources necessary to adapt to ongoing change and restructure their livelihoods. For example, the mobilisation of women and the formation of Self Help Groups (SHGs) to encourage savings and access to micro-credit and micro-insurance before or after a disaster have proved advantageous for many women who would otherwise have had to pawn their jewellery or sell their livestock. In Zimbabwe, the Association of Women’s Clubs, in partnership with Oxfam, has been helping rural women to diversify their income, learn new skills and support a micro-credit revolving fund (
In addition, many NGOs are facilitating women’s participation in mixed community level institutions responsible for natural resource management, building leadership skills for disaster mitigation and linking disasters to livelihood, rights and human security.
The role of the state in disaster mitigation

Although the Hyogo Framework for Action (ISDR, 2005) calls for a gender perspective to be integrated into all disaster risk management plans, policies and decision-making processes, in most countries, the state’s response to disasters has been short-sighted – for example, drought relief through food-for-work programmes or compensation for flood affected households. Typically, such efforts are characterised by corruption and poor planning, despite the huge amounts spent on disaster management agencies. Civil society participation, particularly of gender-sensitive professionals who can identify gender differentiated needs, priorities, skills and capacities before and after disasters is important (see: Initiatives such as the multi-stakeholder Dialogue on Water and Climate launched in 2001 by a consortium of international agencies, is primarily focusing on how water resources can be managed in a world of increasing hydrological variability (see:

Ariyabandu, M.M. and M. Wickramasinghe, 2003. Gender Dimensions in Disaster Management: A Guide for South Asia, Colombo: ITDG (Intermediate Technology Development Group) South Asia Publications. Available from: ITDG South Asia, 5 Lionel Edirisinghe Mawatha, Kirulapone, Colombo 5, Sri Lanka.
Enarson, E, 2000. Gender and Natural Disasters. In-focus Programme on Crisis Response and Reconstruction, Working Paper No. 1. Geneva: ILO.
Enarson, E. and B.H. Morrow (eds.), 1998. The Gendered Terrain of Disaster: Through Women’s Eyes, Westport, CT: Greenwood Publications.
Fernando, P. and V. Fernando (eds.), 1997. South Asian Women: Facing Disasters, Securing Life. Colombo: ITDG Publications for Duryog Nivaran Available at: and

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). Pp 15-36.

International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR), 2005. Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015: Building the Resilience of Nations and Communities to Disasters. Geneva: International Strategy for Disaster Reduction. Available at:
Little, P.D, M. Priscilla Stone, T. Mogues, A. Peter Castro and W. Negatu, 2004. “Churning” on the Margins: How the Poor Respond to Drought in South Wollo, Ethiopia. BASIS Brief No. 21 Available at:
Malekar, A., 2000. “Silence of the Lambs: Landlords exploit the drought-hit dalit women” Available at:
Moench, M. and A. Dixit (eds.), 2004. Adaptive Capacity and Livelihood Resilience: Adaptive Strategies for Responding to Floods and Droughts in South Asia. Boulder, CO and Kathmandu (Nepal): Institute for Social and Economic Transition. Available at:
Nasreen, M., 2000. “Coping mechanisms of rural women in Bangladesh during floods: A gender perspective.” In N. Ahmed and H. Khatun (eds.), Disasters: Issues and Gender Perspectives, Department of Geography and Environment, University of Dhaka.
Twigg, J, 2001. Sustainable Livelihoods and Vulnerability to Disasters, London: Benfield Greig Hazard Research Centre. Available at:
Verhagen, J. and M. Bhatt, 2002. Community-Based Disaster Risk Mitigation: A Case Study in the Semi-Arid Areas of Gujarat presented at ADB Conference on Water and Poverty. Dhaka, Bangladesh.
Wisner, B, P. Blaikie, T. Cannon and I. Davis, 2004. At Risk: Natural Hazards, People’s Vulnerability and Disaster, London and New York: Routledge.
Yamin, F, A. Rahman and S. Huq, 2005. “Vulnerability, Adaptation and Climate Disasters: A Conceptual overview,” IDS Bulletin, 36(4). Pp 1-14.

Additional Resources
Actionaid International, 2005. Participatory Vulnerability Analysis: A step-by-step Guide for Field Staff. Available at:
Aguilar, L., 2004. IUCN Fact sheet: Climate Change and Disaster Mitigation – Gender Makes the Difference.

Fact sheet about the linkages of the gender equity approach in climate change and disaster mitigation initiatives, supported in lessons learned in international initiatives.

Download Document in Spanish

Download Document in English
Ariyabandu, Madhavi, M. and Maithree Wickramasinghe, 2003. Gender Dimensions in Disaster Management: A Guide for South Asia, Colombo: ITDG (Intermediate Technology Development Group) South Asia Publications. Available from: ITDG South Asia, 5 Lionel Edirisinghe Mawatha, Kirulapone, Colombo 5, Sri Lanka.

This resource guide looks at the specific vulnerabilities and capacities of women and men and the gender and social dynamics of disaster situations which are not often visible. The book is targeted at policy makers and development practitioners in South Asia, whose contribution is vital for effective disaster risk management and sustainable development in the sub-continent.

Bradshaw, Sarah, 2004. Socio-Economic Impacts of Natural Disasters: A Gender Analysis. United Nations Sustainable Development and Human Settlements Division, Chile, CEPAL-Series Manuales 32.

This work analyses the socioeconomic effects of Hurricane Mitch (Honduras and the Pacific Coast, 1998) using a gender approach and proposes new indicators to analyse crisis situations that could show in a better way the situation of inequity of women compared to men.

CARE, 2002. Flood Impact on Women and Girls in Prey Veng Province, Cambodia. Funded by DIPECHO and carried out for CARE by IDP Education Australia and CARE, Cambodia.

Enarson, E. et al., 2003. Working with Women at Risk: Practical Guidelines for Assessing Local Disaster Risk. International Hurricane Centre, Florida International University. Available at:

Masika, Rachel (ed.), 2002. Gender, Development and Climate Change. Oxfam Focus on Gender. Oxfam, UK.

Pro-Vention, 2004. “Social Vulnerability and Capacity Analysis (VCA): An Overview”, Discussion paper prepared for the Pro-vention Consortium Workshop at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), 25-26 May, Geneva. Available at:

United National Environment Programme (UNEP), 2005. Mainstreaming Gender in Environmental Assessment and Early Warning.

This report seeks to help the understanding of key questions relating to gender mainstreaming into UNEP's early warning and assessment programme. It analyses key issues in the areas of gender and the environment as they relate to water, poverty, security, conflict, early warning, disaster and vulnerability to environment change.

Available at:

Spanish Language Resources
Alegría, María Angélica, sin dato. Desastres naturales, análisis de la capacidad de respuesta comunitaria desde una perspectiva de género. Disponible en:
Alegría, María Angélica, 2005. Desastres naturales, análisis de cómo enfrentarlos desde la capacidad comunitaria con una perspectiva de género. Paper presented at the 3rd IWA International Conference on Efficient Use and Management of Water, March 15–17, Santiago. Disponible en:
Bradshaw, Sarah, and Ángeles Arenas, 2004. Análisis de género en la evaluación de los efectos socioeconómicos de los desastres naturals. UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean. Series Manuales 33, División de Desarrollo Sostenible y Asentamientos Humanos, Unidad Mujer y Desarrollo, COOPERACIÓN ITALIANA, Santiago de Chile, Chile. Disponible en:

From the Arab Region:
Saad, Samia Galal. 2001. Environmental management and Natural Disasters mitigation: Middle Eastern gender perspective, EGM/NATDS/

Available at:

Mohammad, Baqie Badawi. No date. Famine, women, creative acts and gender dynamics in Manawashai, Darfur, Western Sudan.

Available at:

Key Web Sites
Durvog Nivaran

A Sanskrit word meaning disaster mitigation, this web-site advocates alternate perspectives on disasters and looks into their social dimensions. The site contains research on the issues of livelihoods and disasters, case studies containing best practices on community based disaster risk reduction from South Asian countries, information on the publications of the network, and a photo gallery depicting various disaster situations.
The Intermediate Technology Development Group

This web-site contains information on ITDG’s approach to strengthen the ability of poor people to use technology to cope with threats from natural disasters, environmental degradation and civil conflict by: strengthening the ways that people who live in fragile environments cope with the environmental degradation which threatens their livelihood opportunities; improving vulnerable communities’ ability to prepare for, survive and rebuild homes and livelihoods after natural disasters; preventing and managing conflicts over scarce natural resources and competition for common property resources.
Gender and Disaster Network:

This is an education project initiated by women and men interested in gender relations in disaster contexts. The network intends to document and analyse women and men’s experiences before, during and after disasters, situating gender relations in a broader political, economic, historical and cultural context.

The British Columbia Provincial Emergency Programme web-site has made this entire workbook on disaster preparedness and response among women’s services available on-line. “It Can Happen to your Agency – Tools for Change: Emergency Management for Women’s Services prepared by the B.C. Association of Specialised Victim Assistance and Counselling Programmes focuses on how women’s service agencies can prepare to meet the problems and increased demands for services that will accompany any disaster.
CRID: Regional Disaster Information Center maintains an international collection of Spanish and English-language documents, with a growing collection of gender and disaster writing. See:
RADIX: Radical Interpretations of Disaster Includes gender-sensitive analysis of disaster vulnerability, response, and prevention.

Case studies (check website
Bangladesh: Gender Mainstreaming Processes in Community-based Flood Risk Management
3.12. Gender, Water and Capacity Building

Building the capacities of different stakeholders is essential for mainstreaming gender at all levels of the water sectors. Grassroots women often lack the capacity to participate in a meaningful way in the planning, implementation, and operation and maintenance of water resources, water supply and sanitation programmes. Water sector institutions are generally dominated by men at management levels. Well-directed capacity building programmes targeted for women are needed to alleviate this situation, while programmes targeted for men are needed to sensitize them to the specific needs of poor women.

However, capacity building needs to go beyond individuals. El-Awar (2003) defines capacity building as “a process by which individuals, groups, institutions, organisations and societies enhance their abilities to identify and meet development challenges in a sustainable manner.” In many countries, there is a need to strengthen institutional capacities in the water sectors. Many countries lack the capacity even to spend the budget allocated for water and sanitation programmes. In particular, institutional capacity building is needed for stakeholders in the water resources and sanitation sectors to translate policy intentions into concrete gender-sensitive programmes.
Capacity building and gender mainstreaming in Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM)

The contemporary view of capacity building goes beyond the conventional perception of capacity building as training. It includes the creation of an enabling environment through policy frameworks, institutional reforms, and human resources development.

The concept of mainstreaming gender in Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) is gaining ground in the water sectors, raising the interest of government agencies, non-governmental organisations, donors and technical support agencies for supporting gender approaches. Nonetheless, the understanding of the concept of gender mainstreaming and the capacity to implement it in policies and within national and local organisations is very slow and requires a lot of effort and time.
Many water professionals have an engineering education, with little experience in incorporating gender and social equity approaches in their work. Therefore, capacity building provides concrete tools to integrate a gender perspective in their work, through using gender-sensitive socio-economic surveys and training methods.
Across the developing world, women have less access to formal education than men. As a result, women are under-represented at the institutional level, and grassroots women find it difficult to participate in decision making or to take up paid operation and maintenance tasks. Well-designed capacity building programmes are needed to rectify this. Capacity building targeted for women at the grassroots level should be seen as a process rather than a one-time effort. It requires well-designed training programmes to develop skills that do not require literacy, are based on the needs expressed by the women, and provided by well-trained gender-sensitive trainers. Too often, the wrong people are trained in operation and maintenance, and the women who are trained are not given practical on-the-job training.
However, even when training programmes are well designed, the actual implementation of the training programmes needs to be given due attention. Programmes should be planned at a time and location convenient to women, and training material has to be appropriate and accessible for the trainees. In South Africa, to ensure proper maintenance of the water projects, Mvula Trust required that all water committees had to have at least 30 per cent women. The committee members received on-the-job training in maintenance, and had to be consulted when decisions were made on changes in design, location or technology. This process was adopted by the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry.

In many villages in Gujarat, India, handpumps provided by the Gujarat Water Supply and Sewerage Board (GWSSB) are the sole source of drinking water. However, the GWSSB found it increasingly difficult to maintain these pumps, and in some cases, it took six months to attend to complaints. Prompted by its own members who felt they could better do the maintenance, SEWA submitted a bid to maintain 41 handpumps. Nevertheless, the GWSSB did not allow the women to participate in their training programme, because they did not meet the required education standards. As a result, SEWA called in an NGO to train the first batch of handpump mechanics. This did not mean the end of the women’s struggle, as the villagers showed even less faith in the women’s skills than the GWSSB engineers. With active support from SEWA, these barefoot water mechanics managed to gain the trust of the GWSSB and the villages based on their performance alone. Now SEWA grassroots mechanics maintain more than 1,500 handpumps, and they manage to repair defunct pumps within two days, compared to six weeks that it took previously.

Source: Verhagen and SEWA, 2002.

Key actors

Several key actors play a pivotal role in capacity building to mainstream gender in water sectors. At the international level, international organisations, agencies, donors and NGOs play an important role in providing support in creating the required enabling environment for integrated water resources management. International institutions, such as the Gender and Water Alliance (GWA) and IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre, actively support the development of local knowledge and resources to facilitate the dissemination of knowledge and information. NGOs have been involved in building capacity of CBOs and community members. Though many good practices have emerged from the NGO experience, their coverage is low as the replicibility of their programmes is limited.

At the national level, there is a growing recognition of the need to strengthen capacities, and many countries—for instance India and Nepal—are in the process of setting up specialised training or knowledge institutes for the water sector. However, these centres tend to have little outreach to stakeholders at the intermediate and community levels.

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