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Women and girls at risk after natural disasters

Friday May 7th 2021

Natural disasters increase the triggers for violence against women and girls, a new review out today has concluded.

A review by researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, UK, say the consequences of the violence include unintended pregnancies, unsafe abortions, miscarriages, sexually transmitted infections, poor overall health for mothers and babies, physical injuries, mental health issues, and deaths from murder or suicide.

Because such disasters are increasing in frequency, severity, and duration globally, it must now be formally recognised in public health, violence prevention and disaster management strategies, they warn.

The researchers conducted a systematic review of the available published evidence, looking at the association between disasters from natural hazards and violence against women and girls.

They found 37 relevant studies, 20 of which were quantitative, 16 qualitative and one a mixed-methods design. They all assessed exposure to disasters caused by different natural hazard types, including droughts, floods, and hurricanes.

Writing in the latest edition of BMJ Global Health, the authors say over the past 20 years, 7,348 natural disasters have been recorded, almost double the number recorded between 1980 and 1999.

Between 2008 and 2017, 84% of all recorded disasters were related to climate issues.

The researchers write that violence against women is often under reported and their analysis showed that the violence was primarily physical, psychological and sexual, while some studies also looked at murder, controlling or aggressive behaviour, forced early marriage and financial violence.

About 37% of the perpetrators were found to be current or former partners, 15% relatives, 12% strangers, 11% authority figures, 8% friends or neighbours and 16.5% unspecified or other types of perpetrators.

Of the quantitative studies, eight found that natural disasters were associated with increased violence against women and girls, while another four established associations with particular types of violence.

While five found no association between natural disasters and violence against women and girls, two mentioned exceptionally high rates of this type of violence before the disaster happened.

The 16 qualitative studies and one mixed methods study all described violence against women and girls in the wake of natural disasters.

Despite this being the first known global systematic review of the impact of natural disasters on women and girls, the researchers said more high-quality research with greater geographical scope and use of standardised exposure and outcome measures is vital.

They write: "As populations are increasingly affected by climate-related disasters and violence against women and girls can have severe and lasting health impacts, existing knowledge must inform rapid action across policy and practice.

"At the policy level, greater awareness on disaster related, gender-sensitive policies and inclusion of women in disaster management are critical.

"Further, systems for rapid and effective coordination between disaster management, law enforcement and health authorities must be defined clearly to prevent and address its health consequences."

Natural hazards, disasters and violence against women and girls: a global mixed-methods systematic review. BMJ Global Health 7 May 2021; doi 10.1136/bmjgh-2020-004377

[abstract]

Tags: UK News | Women's Health & Gynaecology | World Health

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