The Link Between Disaster and Violence Against Women

Thursday, July 17, 2014: 8:45 AM
Room: 501
Oral Presentation
Debra PARKINSON , WHGNE, WHIN, Monash University, Australia
Claire ZARA , Monash Injury Research Institute, Monash University, Clayton, Australia
There is compelling evidence that violence against women increases following large-scale disasters. Yet there is a research gap on why this happens, and how increased violence may relate to disaster experiences. 

This presentation reports on the first Australian research into this – a phenomenon previously overlooked in emergency planning and reconstruction after disaster. In the absence of reliable quantitative data, interviews with 30 women in Victoria after the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires provided evidence of increased domestic violence, even in a context that silenced women. Community members, police, case managers, trauma psychologists and family violence workers empathised with traumatised and suffering men – men who may have been heroes in the fires – and encouraged women to wait it out. These responses compromised the principle that women and children always have the right to live free from violence.

Disaster provides an opportunity to reinforce traditional gender roles, and this presentation considers the concept that social cohesion relies on women’s sacrifice. Further, it identifies that male privilege plays an important role in ensuring men’s interests are prioritised.

The launch of the research findings in 2012 brought this highly sensitive issue to the attention of disaster managers and inspired changes within key emergency organisations to improve the safety of women and children in the aftermath of disaster, beginning with improved data collection and training for disaster personnel. A partnership project was then funded to explore men’s experiences after Black Saturday, with a focus on men’s harmful behaviours to themselves and to those around them. The role of gender and the cost of patriarchy to both women and men are examined through interviews with 32 men.