Gender Matters: Applying a Gendered Analysis to Bushfire Research in Australia

Presentation at Research Forum of the 2012 Bushfire CRC and AFAC Annual Conference.

The relationship between gender and disaster is complex. International literature suggests there will be substantial gendered differences with regard to risk exposure and perception, preparedness behaviour, warning communication and response, physical and psychological impacts post-disaster as well as recovery and reconstruction efforts. Despite the recognition of the importance of gender in international disaster literature, there is a deficit of research on gender in relation to bushfire emergencies.  While there is some research on the gendered character of bushfire emergency services as well as a consideration of awareness programs In Australia, there is little systematic study of these themes. The gendered division of labour and women’s disproportionate burden of care-giving for children, the sick and the elderly, as well as women’s socialisation to be more risk-averse than men are telling features. Moreover, the gendered elements of bushfire decision-making may well be compounded in different ways in a range of social contexts; in rural, peri-urban and sea-change / tree-change environments. Further, while there is now substantial evidence to suggest that, globally, women are at greater risk from the effects of disaster than men, the reverse appears to be the case with instances of bushfire in Australia where men tend to be over-represented in death-toll statistics. These themes suggest that more research is needed into the social construction of gender in the specific context of bushfires in Australia and that a greater understanding of gender should be taken into account with regard to bushfire policy. If our aim is to reduce fatalities resulting from bushfire disasters, then understanding the role of gender should be seen as imperative.

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