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  • Writer's pictureMeher Fatima

Gendered Approach to Disaster Management: Lessons from Morocco

On September 8, 2023, a shallow 6.8-magnitude earthquake hit Morocco. More than two thousand people were killed, and an additional five thousand were injured. The earthquake destroyed parts of Marrakech and also hit rural areas in the Atlas Mountains (The New York Times, 2023). The devastation was tremendous. The quake mainly hit remote settlements in the Atlas Mountains. The tremors were felt as far as Algeria and Portugal. The affected parts needed relief and medical assistance on an emergency basis. Many relief camps were established across the country, which offered humanitarian assistance to the survivors. Though the volunteers and locals did commendable work in amplifying the reach, there were reports of a shortage of food and medicines. The affected locals accused the administration of negligence. Among other challenges, one of the key issues that emerged was the lack of a gendered approach to relief distribution. A gendered perspective means to develop a nuanced approach towards disaster management by keeping gender-related sensitivities in view. Why is this issue important? It highlights an often neglected facet of disaster relief and response—a gender-sensitive approach to disaster management. This is a significant area to explore in understanding the ramifications of a natural disaster like an earthquake for different sections of the population.


Natural Disasters and Gender: Understanding the Entanglement

One of the most significant aspects of such widespread disasters is that they increase the vulnerability of women. This does not mean other sections do not suffer; it is just that certain risk factors are more serious in the case of women. For instance, according to a report, many relief camps were found short on menstrual hygiene products, something that falls under the category of period poverty. Period poverty refers to the shortage of materials needed by women during their menstrual cycle, created due to a paucity of resources from their side or simply due to a lack of them. The problem gets exacerbated during calamities. Even if the affected women get their hands on sanitary essentials, the supply often remains insufficient.


According to another report, there was also a lack of proper medical facilities required for pregnant women. Among the survivors, more than four thousand pregnant women are in immediate need of medical assistance. In the aftermath of the quake, there has been an increase in the fear of forced marriages and trafficking among women (Aljazeera, 2023). Many such women and girls turned to the NGOs and other organisations working on women's issues for help. However, the documentation of such cases remained unsatisfactory. It has the potential to become a persistent problem for those unmarried women and girls who lost their male guardians to the earthquake. Not only this, according to several media reports, many women seeking shelter in these refugee camps levelled allegations of sexual assault. Such situations demand our attention.


Additionally, in a country like Morocco, which is not prone to such widespread natural disasters, the disaster management framework is not properly articulated. One of the key difficulties the rescue teams faced was accessibility. The rescue teams found it difficult to reach the mountainous terrain. Due to rugged terrain and difficult conditions, it became difficult for the rescue teams to reach the affected rural areas. Many affected women could not get essential supplies due to this. Also, whatever help reached these areas, it did not cater to gender-specific problems with seriousness. The important aim was to save lives and provide emergency aid.


Why is a gender-sensitive approach to disaster management needed?

There is a need to do so because women face additional issues in such moments of catastrophe. The local teams are not properly equipped with tools to handle such cases. As Morocco’s case shows, there is a dearth of awareness regarding the vulnerability of women. It is also pertinent to raise awareness about issues faced by women in the aftermath of the crisis, especially challenges that will arise in the long term. The natural calamities are out of bounds for any human will. Calamities like earthquakes strike without warning. There is no suitable scientific way to predict an earthquake. In such a scenario, it is not possible to have infallible preparations. However, the existing framework for disaster relief is quite generic. The focus is on rescue and emergency supplies. The disaster relief teams usually run short on first responders. There is not much time to lose. The first concern is to save lives. After the initial shock subsides, the communitarian efforts prepare for long-term relief distribution, resettlement, and rehabilitation. More cooperation in this arena is required in the long term. The collaboration has to be pursued from a gendered perspective for the success of such possibilities.


Conclusion

Most of the affected areas in Morocco were rural areas that were difficult to access. The allegations of girls and young women being pushed into forced marriages also reflect the increased vulnerability of affected women in society. The allegations of sexual harassment illustrate the concerns around the safety of women and girls, often left unattended in relief camps or shelter homes. The magnitude of the destruction brought many issues to the fore. The need for gender-sensitive approaches to disaster management is required. There is a need to gauge the vulnerabilities faced by women in such situations. It is the responsibility of the stakeholders' authorities to put proper preventive measures and response mechanisms in place to save vulnerable sections of society.


References

Boxerman, Aaron. 2023. “What We Know about the Earthquake That Devastated Morocco.” The New York Times, September 14, 2023. https://www.nytimes.com/article/morocco-earthquake.html.


Jamal, Urooba, and Kim Makhlouf. 2023. “Moroccan Girls at Risk of Sexual Assault, Forced Marriage after Earthquake.” Earthquakes News | Al Jazeera, September 23, 2023. https://www-aljazeera-com.cdn.ampproject.org/c/s/www.aljazeera.com/amp/news/2023/9/18/moroccan-girls-face-threat-of-sexual-assault-forced-marriage-after-quake.


“Menstruation and Human Rights - Frequently Asked Questions.” n.d. United Nations Population Fund. https://www.unfpa.org/menstruationfaq.


“Prioritizing Education and Gender Equality for Morocco’s Earthquake-Affected Women and Girls.” n.d. UNGEI.


Rafferty, J. P.. "Morocco earthquake of 2023." Encyclopedia Britannica, September 13, 2023. https://www.britannica.com/event/Morocco-earthquake-of-2023.


Rubbia, Giuliana. "Natural hazards and earthquake science: Gender matters." Frontiers in Earth Science 10 (2022): 1033321.


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