Women and Girls in the Wake of Haiyan: How Can I Help?

Everyone is equally vulnerable in the midst of a natural disaster– but what happens when it’s over?  

While natural disasters affect everyone, there is increasing recognition that women and girls face particular–and particularly daunting–challenges. However, only a small percentage of aid focuses on programs for women and girls, despite the fact that they make up a majority of those displaced.

The Global Fund for Women’s framework for disaster relief highlights three dangers for women in the wake of disaster: increased risk of violence; struggles with health care that does not address women’s specific needs; and increased economic insecurity. The typhoon is over, but for many women, the biggest obstacles are still ahead.

For donors who want to reduce those risks for women and girls in the Philippines, here’s what you need to know:

Post-disaster chaos leaves women at increased risk for violence

Natural disasters can break down the social order and safe spaces that help to protect women. In this critical period, women are at a greater risk for sexual violence, domestic violence, and trafficking. Risk of exploitation and abuse is high within temporary shelters and refugee camps, and a lack of electricity makes activity at night especially dangerous.

Giving opportunities: Keep women safe

  • The UNHCR is distributing 50,000 solar lanterns as a part of their gender-based response to the crisis. Lanterns have proven especially useful in times of crisis, allowing women to travel more safely at night and feel more secure in temporary shelters. How to support UNHCR relief efforts.
  • Save the Children is currently working to build safe spaces for children and adolescents affected by the typhoon. These spaces serve a vital function, allowing girls to interact, play, and receive important information pertaining to their health and safety. How to support Save the Children relief efforts.

Limited health care access puts pregnant and breastfeeding women at risk

Women don’t stop giving birth during emergencies. An estimated 200,000 expectant mothers were affected by Haiyan; as nearly 40% of women in the Philippines give birth at home, ensuring safe and clean birthing conditions is vital.

Giving opportunities: Target women’s health needs

  • The United Nations Population Fund Asia-Pacific is working to address the specific health needs of women. They are currently distributing hygiene kits and clean delivery kits to expectant and breastfeeding mothers. How to support UNFPA relief efforts.
  • A number of first responder organizations are on the ground providing emergency medical care. Doctors Without Borders/MSF has set up mobile clinics on a number of islands and has long-term plans to create a comprehensive medical system in Tacloban City, including a delivery room, maternity ward and blood bank. How to support Doctors Without Borders/MSF relief efforts.

Loss of income leaves women vulnerable to exploitation

Economic consequences in the wake of a disaster are widespread, and women are particularly vulnerable. Agricultural and informal jobs (the most common female occupations) can be disrupted by natural disasters, as land becomes unusable and the service economy shrinks. The subsequent reduction in income puts women at greater risk for impoverishment, exploitation, and trafficking.

Giving opportunity: Help women become economically self-sufficient

The Global Fund for Women is a grant-making organization that works to advance the rights of women and girls by providing resources to female-led community organizations. They currently have a number of community-based small business partnerships in areas affected by Haiyan. These local groups, including Unlad Kabayan Migrant Service Foundation, are poised to deliver immediate relief to the populations they serve and contribute to long-term development. How to support Global Fund for Women relief efforts.

For more on how you can help with Haiyan recovery, see Philippines Typhoon: How Can I Help?