Natural disasters are far from equal opportunity killers, disproportionally affecting women instead of men.
To understand why more women tend to die in natural disasters, take a look at Bangladesh. Cyclone Sid struck the South Asian country in 2007, killing approximately 3,500 people. Five out of every six of those victims were women.
A recent documentary entitled Surviving the Storm: Women and Natural Disasters offers several reasons for the disparity. It showed that women in Bangladesh are often responsible for their children and older members of the family, making it difficult to evacuate. Many women didn't want to evacuate to a shelter until they knew where their husbands were a wait that proved deadly. Other women simply didn't want to go to a shelter where they would be housed along with strange men.
According to a study by Oxfam, the 2004 tsunami that struck Sri Lanka, India and Indonesia killed four times as many women as men. A major contributing factor to the disproportional female deaths, the study concluded, revolved around the traditional role of women and that women in that area of the world aren't taught to swim.
In both cases a culture that frequently denied women a basic education also played a huge role in their inability to survive the natural disasters.
The good news is that the ratio is getting smaller. Going back to Bangladesh, the 1970 Bhola Cyclone killed an estimated 300,000 people, with female victims outnumbering males by a stunning 14-1 ratio.
What did Bangladesh do to in the subsequent 37 years leading up to Cyclone Sid to ensure the safety of more females during national disasters? For starters, the country now has an early warning system to let its citizens know when a deadly storm is approaching. Bangladesh also made efforts to create female friendly shelters, including those with female-only sections, or shelters that only accept women and children.
To its credit, Bangladesh worked with the Red Crescent Society to get additional input from women when creating its cyclone preparedness program.
And that kind of gets to the heart of how more women can survive natural disasters. The largest ratios of female-to-male casualties tend to be found in developing countries where women generally don't receive the same education as men and don't participate in the workforce. In developed countries, where women are treated as equals to men in the education system, the female-to-male victim ratio is nearly equal.
Once again, education seems to be the answer (along with a good warning system).
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