Mon | Dec 10, 2018

Earth Today | Researcher urges attention to men, boys at risk in natural disasters

Published:Thursday | May 31, 2018 | 12:00 AMPetre Williams-Raynor/ Contributing editor

MEN AND boys on the margins of society, notably those who are poor, gay and/or disabled, must be given priority in disaster planning, as part of efforts to minimise the socio-economic fallout from, among other things, climate change impacts such as extreme hurricanes.

Dr Leith Dunn, senior lecturer and head of the Institute for Gender and Development Studies at the University of the West Indies, makes the case in the chapter she penned in the book Men, Masculinities and Disaster.

This includes, she said, having these men "provide strategic knowledge and insights to mitigate risks associated with disasters".

With the approach to disaster management requiring "increased focus on issues affecting men and boys, including the gendered psychological impacts of losing their family, neighbours, assets, livelihoods, income and social power" in a disaster event, the academic said there are a variety of additional steps that must be taken.

Taking stock of the assets that men in general bring to policymaking and problem solving, from "local knowledge networks [to] resources, cultural insights and trust - all of which are strategically important to the disaster management process" is one of those steps.

Strengthening the capacity of disaster risk management agencies to collect data disaggregated by sex and other demographic and socio-economic characteristics is also important.

"This enables disaster managers to better identify and address the specific needs of males across the life cycle, as well as men with disabilities, men of different class and racial/ethnic groups and men of different sexual identities," said Dunn, writing in the 2016 book edited by Dr Elaine Enarson and Bob Pease, and available in paperback this July.

"Agencies will also need to look at these intersecting gender patterns and how they can impact men's access to power and decision-making with the aim of more effective disaster risk management," she added.

There is, too, the need for collaboration involving "disaster risk management agencies, academic institutions and MSM advocacy groups" which can help "to harness specialised knowledge and other assets that men can provide to mitigate disaster-related risks that affect them".

And there are a few of these risks that affect men on the margins.

Men (as also women) with disabilities, Dunn said, are often invisible, with their socio-economic status and poverty levels made worse due to discrimination and less access to education and employment.

As for men who have sex with men, they are vulnerable to disasters "due to pre-existing vulnerabilities that arise from heteronormative cultural norms and stereotypes".

Negative attitudes towards gay men, according to Dunn, "present barriers to MSM accessing their basic rights before, during and after a natural hazard event".

"For example, hurricanes and floods sometimes require displaced persons to spend time in temporary shelters. Gay men who seek refuge in these shelters may face discrimination and gender-based violence," she said.