Ignored Reality of Disasters: Women

Ignored Reality of Disasters: Women
Photo by Faruk Tokluoğlu via Pexels


İrem Çakmak

Middle East and Human Rights Researcher

Global Human Rights Defence

The 6.8 magnitude earthquake that struck Morocco on the evening of September 8, 2023 caused extreme destruction. While the initial earthquake resulted in more than 2000 deaths, there has been a rise in the number of fatalities and injuries from aftershocks. [1] Work is still ongoing to deliver aid to the mountainous regions of the country. [2] 

Women are released with a considerably higher disadvantage during and after natural and human-made disasters. Disaster-related fatalities of women and children outnumber those of men by a factor of 14 times. [3] The protection of women’s rights in times of disasters, such as earthquakes, poses a problem in international law at first glance. An international treaty that solely focuses on women’s rights protection during disaster times does not exist. However, as a principle, it is widely accepted that women’s rights treaties are in force even during disaster times even when the treaty itself does not refer to disasters explicitly. [4] Women’s rights during natural disasters have also been mentioned in declarations and meetings of various international organisations focusing on women’s rights. For example, following the 1999 Marmara earthquake in Türkiye, the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women addressed this issue in 2002. [5]

Currently, The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction of the UN and General Recommendation No. 37 of the CEDAW (“the Convention Elimination All Forms Discrimination against Women”) Committee are significant international documents touching upon women’s rights after catastrophes. The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction encompasses a broad time frame, from before the disaster until the damage resulting from the disaster is completely remedied, for vulnerable groups, including women. [6] Although the framework does not focus solely on gender, women’s rights are mentioned among other vulnerable groups’ rights which paves the way for a stronger protection. [7] On the other hand, General Recommendation No. 37 of the CEDAW Committee specifies three core principles that should be the basis of all policies that states will adopt before and after a disaster and what should be done after the crises. The key principles included in the recommendation are the principles of freedom and prohibition, participation and courtesy, accountability and access to justice. [8]

It is imperative to assess the results of past natural disasters in terms of their gendered impacts to take into account multifold and complex needs of women and children. The rights violations women experience as a result of disasters begin to emerge even while the catastrophe is unfolding. According to the statement of Ezgi Karakuş, a member of Feminist Solidarity for Disaster in Türkiye, during the earthquakes on February 6 in the region of Türkiye and Syria, many women lost their lives trying to save their children first instead of saving themselves. [9] Disregard towards women’s specific needs endures during efforts to heal the wounds. In the aftermath of the February 6 earthquakes, disaster zones lacked toilets, hygiene products, washing areas and health services assigned to women. [10] According to the statements of by Sabine Abiaad, ActionAid Regional Communications and Campaign Head in the Arab Region, women and girls were left vulnerable to sexual violence in Syria as “the lack of privacy and separate toilets has made toilets and washing areas unsafe for women and girls.” [11]

In addition to disaster-caused violations, women continue to experience other forms of human rights violations such as physical and psychological violence. According to report of the Bitlis KAMER Foundation in Türkiye, after the February 6 earthquakes, incidents of violence against women persisted in the disaster zones. [12] In addition, after February 6, it was observed that female suicide rates increased as well as psychological aid applications due to domestic violence in the earthquake region in Türkiye. [13]

A convention focusing exclusively on the protection of women’s rights in times of disaster does not exist in international law. However, women’s rights treaties remain fully in force during disaster times. As a result, there are procedures under international law to safeguard female disaster victims. However, women and girls’ rights and needs are not considered in disaster prevention policies and action plans followed during and after the disaster which was further confirmed by the February 6 earthquakes. After only seven months, an earthquake struck Morocco, causing terrible havoc and demonstrating a similar lack of consideration for the special needs of women. Morocco needs to implement measures that will guarantee women’s access to rights in both domestic and international contexts to prevent rights violations as in past earthquakes.

Sources and further reading

[1] International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, ‘Morocco earthquake: IFRC and Moroccan Red Crescent response to date’ (September 09, 2023) <Morocco earthquake: IFRC and Moroccan Red Crescent response to date> accessed 13 September 2023.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Brookings, ‘How Can International Human Rights Law Protect Us from Disasters?’ (April 10, 2014) <How Can International Human Rights Law Protect Us from Disasters? | Brookings > accessed 13 September 2023.

[4] Deepa Kansra, ‘International Human Rights Framework and Disasters’ (2019) <International Human Rights Framework and Disasters > accessed 13 September 2023.

[5] Eşitlik İçin Kadın Platformu- EŞİK, ‘6 Şubat 2023 Depremleri Toplumsal Cinsiyet Eşitliği Bakış Açısından Geleceğe Notlar’ (2023) p. 39 <6 Şubat 2023 Depremleri > accessed 13 September 2023.

[6] Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (2015) UN Doc A/RES/69/283 (Sendai Framework). 

[7] United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR), ‘A Review of Gender and The Sendai Framework’ (2023) p. 9 <A Review of Gender and The Sendai Framework > accessed 15 September 2023.

[8] Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, General Recommendation No. 37 on Gender-Related Dimensions of Disaster Risk Reduction in the Context of Climate Change, UN Doc CEDAW/C/GC/37 (2020).

[9] Deutsche Welle ‘Afet dönemlerinde kadınların sorunları daha derinleşiyor’ (August 08, 2023) <"Afet dönemlerinde kadınların sorunları daha derinleşiyor" – DW – 08.03.2023 > accessed 13 September 2023. 

[10] BBC News Türkçe, ‘Afetzede kadınlar: 'Sorunlarımız büyük, ihtiyaçlarımız karşılanmıyor, güvende hissetmiyoruz' (February 17, 2023) <https://www.bbc.com/turkce/articles/cld779nkx4qo >  accessed 13 September 2023. 

[11] Ibid.

[12] Kadın Dayanışma Vakfı, ‘6 Şubat Depremleri Sonrasında Kadına Yönelik Şiddetle Mücadele Mekanizmalarında Son Durum’ (2023) p. 3. <6 Şubat Depremleri Sonrasında Kadına Yönelik Şiddetle Mücadele Mekanizmalarında Son Durum - Kadın Dayanışma Vakfı> accessed 13 September 2023.

[13] Ibid., p. 4.