The impact of crises on people's lives, experiences and material conditions differ based on their gender and sexuality. 

Facts and stats

Women and girls are often more likely to experience adverse consequences of crises:

  • In general, natural disasters kill more women than men, and kill women at a younger age than men.[1] For example, 64.7% of the Tsunami deaths in Aceh Province in 2004 were female. Young children and the elderly made up over half of the casualties.[2]

References: 1. World Health Organization (2011) “Gender, Climate Change, and Health” (Geneva, 2011); Gender equality and the empowerment of women in natural disasters Report of the Secretary-General (E/CN.6/2014/13), p.3; 2. Mazurana, D., Benelli, P., Gupta, H. and Walker, P. (n.d.) “Sex and Age Matter: Improving humanitarian response in emergencies". Feinstein International Center, Tufts University.

An estimated 60% of preventable maternal deaths take place in crisis settings.

References: World Health Organization. (2014). Trends in maternal mortality: 1990 to 2013. Estimates by WHO, Unicef, UNFPA, The World Bank, and the United Nations Population Division. 

  • Armed conflict kills more women, and kills women of a younger age, than their male counterparts, through direct and indirect consequences (including reduced access to food, health services, hygiene, etc.).[3]

Reference: Plümper, T. and Neumayer, E. “The Unequal Burden of War: The Effect of Armed Conflict on the Gender Gap in Life Expectancy.” International Organization. Vol. 60, No. 3, Summer 2006, pp. 723-754.

  • The risk of violence, exploitation and abuse is heightened in conflict and natural disaster. An estimated one in five refugee or displaced women in complex humanitarian settings have experienced sexual violence – a figure that is likely an underestimation - given the barriers associated with disclosure.

Reference: Vu, A., Adam, A., Wirtz, A., Pham, K., Rubenstein, L., Glass, N., Beyrer, C., and Singh, S. (2014) "The Prevalence of Sexual Violence among Female Refugees in Complex Humanitarian Emergencies: a Systematic Review and Meta-analysis” PLoS Currents. Public Library of Science

Social norms and emergencies

  • During conflict, males are often expected to put themselves at risk by engaging in fighting, or riskier behavior due to a socially ascribed idea of masculinity.

Reference: AYINET (2011), “Surgical and Medical Rehabilitation Report 2009/2010.” Kampala, Uganda: AYINET.

  • Age and gender have been shown to greatly influence the kind of injuries suffered in armed conflict, as well as the capacity to access treatment.

Reference: AYINET (2011), “Surgical and Medical Rehabilitation Report 2009/2010.” Kampala, Uganda: AYINET.

    • Socially ascribed gender norms can affect the likelihood of survival. For example, in the Sri Lankan tsunami, it was easier for men and boys to survive for having been taught to swim and climb trees – skills largely taught to boys.

    Reference: Oxfam (2005). The Tsunami’s Impact on Women. Oxfam Briefing Note 30. 

    Emergencies and reinforcing inequality

    Crises can exacerbate and reinforce existing gender inequalities, or create new ones:

    • Only 9% of landholders in conflict and post-conflict countries are women, compared with 19% globally.

    Reference:  UN Security Council (2015). Report of the Secretary-General on women, peace and security; and UN Security Council (2014). Report of the Secretary-General on women, peace and security, p. 22.

    • The exclusion of women from preparedness can leave women ill equipped to deal with future crises, compounding their vulnerability.

    Reference:  UN Security Council (2015). Report of the Secretary-General on women, peace and security; and UN Security Council (2014). Report of the Secretary-General on women, peace and security.

      • Crises have been shown to increase the rates of early and forced child marriage. This stems from a variety of different factors, including the higher death rate of women in conflict; the need to “protect” young unmarried girls in risky situations; and financial pressures.

      Reference:  UN Security Council (2015). Report of the Secretary-General on women, peace and security; and UN Security Council (2014). Report of the Secretary-General on women, peace and security; Save the Children (2014Syrian child marriage in Jordan doubled from ; Women's Refugee Commission (2016) A girl no more: the changing norms of child marriage in conflict.

        • Girls are more likely to be pulled out of school in crises and less likely to return, than boys.

        Reference:  UN Security Council (2015). Report of the Secretary-General on women, peace and security; and UN Security Council (2014). Report of the Secretary-General on women, peace and security.

          Emergencies and positive potential toward equality

          The changes experienced during crises can, however, offer opportunities for promoting transformative change and empowering women:

          • The roles and responsibilities of women and men often change as a direct consequence of conflict or crisis. This can include changes in what is seen as appropriate behavior for women and men, including restrictive cultural norms regarding women and work, or movement.
          • By seizing upon changing sentiments around gender roles, programming can work to support an enabling environment to capitalize on the changes experienced in gender equality.