“We have to keep in mind that disasters make existing inequalities even worse,” said Velzeboer-Salcedo. “Those who are stronger and more powerful, whether physically or psychosocially--or both--are going to have better access to scarce resources. But when women are deprived of resources, entire families are likely to be deprived, too.”
Both experts called on relief organizations to address the different needs of women, girls, boys, and men by conducting needs assessments that take gender differences into account, and by ensuring that both men and women are on assessment teams.
Data collected by relief organizations on deaths, injuries, displacement, and who is receiving aid should be gathered and analyzed by sex and age. This is critical for targeting services and assistance according to actual needs, said Velzeboer-Salcedo.
Women face other special challenges in the aftermath of disasters. For example, young children and pregnant and nursing mothers are considered at higher risk of moderate or severe acute malnutrition, as are older people.
The danger of malnutrition rises when, due to the disruptive effects of a disaster, women stop breastfeeding their infants or fail to initiate breastfeeding of their newborn babies.
“With water and sanitation systems failing, it is even more important for mothers to breastfeed their babies rather than giving them formula mixed with water that may very well be contaminated,” said Dr. Chessa Lutter, a PAHO/WHO nutrition expert.
Velzeboer-Salcedo also called on relief workers to be alert for cases of sexual violence, exploitation, and abuse.
“It takes extra awareness and effort to empower women, who are the main caretakers of the injured and families during these tragic circumstances,” she
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