Gender matters: Applying a gendered analysis to bushfire research in Australia

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Community Safety
TitleGender matters: Applying a gendered analysis to bushfire research in Australia
Publication TypeReport
Year of Publication2012
AuthorsToh, K, Philips, R, Tyler, M, Fairbrother, P, Chaplin, S, Mees, B
AbstractThe study of gender and associated questions about the social construction of masculinity and femininity have become established as important elements of social science research. While gender has often been a focus in disciplines such as sociology and anthropology, the social construction of gender is now analysed in areas ranging from criminology to international political economy. The importance of gender is also recognised in the trend towards ‘gender mainstreaming’ evident in many national and international policy discourses (Walby 2005). Disaster studies adopted the use of gendered analysis quite late, however, and it was not until the late 1990s that the influential collection The Gendered Terrain of Disaster (Enarson & Morrow 1998) was published. Since then, there has been a steady increase in international literature dealing with the relationship between gender and disaster. Australian research on bushfire has yet to make use of the insights from this literature and this discussion paper offers ways in which a gendered analysis of bushfire in Australia might be developed. There is a very limited amount of work which mentions gender in the context of bushfire in Australia (Poiner 1990; Cox 1998; Beaston & McLennan 2005; Beaston et al. 2008; DeLaine et al. 2008; Maleta 2009; Eriksen et al. 2010) and, for the most part, gender is a peripheral rather than central theme (cf. Eriksen et al. 2010). Given the lack of available research dealing with the Australian context, this discussion paper draws on two other major areas of literature that are likely to provide the most suitable frameworks for applying gendered analyses. The first is the critical, academic literature on gender and disaster which is still rather limited in volume but has strong conceptual grounding. The second is literature on gender and rurality which is fed by the disciplines of rural sociology and gender studies. Both are relatively new areas of academic interest and feature significant research gaps which would be suitable for further study. This discussion paper aims to draw on the international literature regarding gender, disaster, masculinity and rurality and suggest ways in which insights from these areas may be used to better understand bushfire preparedness, communication, response and recovery in Australia as well as avenues for future research. The latter sections of this paper offer ways of developing a theoretical framework to understand how and why bushfire preparation, response and recovery are heavily gendered in the Australian context. This aims to move beyond simply looking at women and bushfire, and instead adopting an understanding that gender is fundamentally relational. This approach means men and masculinity must become part of the analysis as well. The paper concludes by considering how bushfires in Australia have become socially constructed as ‘men’s business’.