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  • Xinyu Zheng

An Introduction to Violence Against Women During Extreme Weather Events

Author: Xinyu Zheng

October 12, 2023

Violence Against Women

Gender-based violence (GBV) includes domestic violence, femicide, sexual violence, human trafficking, female genital mutilation, child marriage, and online and digital violence [2]. GBV might be potentially inflicted on everyone, although much of the understanding is limited to females assigned at birth because of the insufficient awareness of diverse gender identities.

Violence against women (VAW) is a more accurate term to describe violence as the manifestation of gender inequality and discrimination against females, rooted in local cultural norms and amplified by poverty. Many communities assign certain social expectations, roles, and responsibilities to women and girls, such as less capability to earn incomes, child bearers, sources of money through dowry, and husband's appendage, breeding, and catalyzing VAWs. Some communities even justified certain VAWs, such as domestic violence, female circumcision, and child marriage. Except for the direct association between culture and VAW, cultural contexts lead to the poor socioeconomic status of females, blocking their access to economic, educational, food, and healthcare resources, which increases their dependency on families’ support and undermines their ability to self-protect. It is difficult to discern to what extent gender-based vulnerability results from being deprived of resources and to what extent it is because of gender identity itself [3].

VAW in extreme weather events

Extreme weather events are exacerbated in frequency and severity caused by climate change. They include heat waves, freezes, tornadoes, tropical cyclones, floods, and droughts. The impact of extreme weather events is co-determined by the events' frequency and severity and the population's vulnerability in the affected areas. Cannon (2002) further decomposed a community's vulnerability to disasters into five components: its initial conditions, the resilience of livelihood, the ability of self-protection, and access to social protection and social capital, which are unique for each community [3]. In events of similar severity, the events hit differently in different economic conditions, socioeconomic structures, demographic composition, political settings, and cultural contexts, which shield some parts of the world from but expose the other parts to various risks during and after extreme weather events. Indeed, many studies on the impact of extreme weather events focus on one specific region [4] [5] [6] [7] [8].

However, extreme weather events do not affect people in one region equally. As discussed earlier, the five components of vulnerability are disparate across groups of populations. Gender is a critical dimension for a local community to determine who possesses sources of income and sufficient private wealth as their initial status to recover from the disaster quickly. Gender identity also affects how easily and how much a person can access public resources such as food, shelter, and aid to cover damages. Many studies provide evidence that extreme weather events affect women and girls disproportionately, according to a literature review of 130 studies from 2005 to 2016 [9]. Among the 54 studies comparing the rate of death and injuries for women and men, 64% found that women are more likely to die and get injured during extreme weather than men. The threat to female well-being includes increased violence towards females during and after severe weather. A considerable amount of studies found a higher rate of VAW, such as domestic violence and sexual assault, after hurricanes and floodings in the US, New Zealand, UK, and South Asia countries than in the pre-disaster period [5] [6] [10]. A paper summarized two main explanations to interpret the association between extreme weather events and VAW. Extreme weather events increase the risk factors of VAW. For example, females are exposed to men more frequently during and after the events on their way to shelters, aiding providers, or healthcare facilities and when their homes are damaged. They are more likely to be targeted when socially isolated due to changes in their family structures. Additionally, extreme weather worsens the drivers of VAW. Typically, the economic conditions of their families deteriorate after the disasters, forcing females to work more than before or catalyzing the abuse of power through physical and mental violence on women and girls [11].

The Importance of VAW Mitigation

The compound burden of extreme weather conditions and VAW left hard-to-heal scars on them physically and mentally. While events strike and fade immediately, they induce infectious diseases from which females having little access to healthcare are hard to recover and cause economic damages that aggravate the already precarious situation of females, even if they do not lose their lives in the disasters. The intensified domestic violence puts females at risk of permanent physical disabilities and chronic mental disorders. The experience of sexual assault and harassment by non-partner males might not only expose females to physical harm, mental stress, unwanted pregnancy, and sexually transmitted diseases but also disrepute them in their cultural context and force them to be divorced by their partners, losing a major source of economic support. The lack of funds to rebuild houses and resume work also encourages early marriage for dowry. The double burden of extreme weather and VAW results in “slow violence”, “a violence that is neither spectacular nor instantaneous but instead incremental, whose calamitous repercussions are postponed for years or decades or centuries” [12].

However, VAW has not been sufficiently incorporated into extreme weather emergency management plans. A global case study by IFRC found that Disaster Risk Management and laws have not yet provided proper mandates and resources to prevent or reduce VAW and support victims [13]. VAW in disaster planning is an emerging field of research. Although there is a stream of studies contributing to informative decision-making responding to VAW during and after extreme weather, the data availability and quality are subject to limitation, given VAW’s sensitive nature in many communities and the potential harm caused by traumatized memories, victims might feel insecure about reporting or talking about their experiences [12] [14].

Research Plan and Purpose

HRRC will publish a series of articles to understand VAW during and after extreme weather events in different geographies from existing data and studies to raise awareness of VAW in disaster preparedness and risk management. The following regions are frequently mentioned in VAW during extreme weather studies, which this series will cover.

● Bangladesh

● Sub-Sahara Africa

● Haiti


As discussed earlier, location matters in VAW studies, necessitating multiple articles considering various economic, social, political, and cultural factors. This series aims to understand how severe the VAW problem is across the globe, especially how women and girls cope with the VAW problems differently in various geographies, as well as what policies, governments, NGOs, and international organizations have done to help them. The comparison of studied geographics will enable a final discussion concluding what efforts could be made to relieve the double burden of VAW and extreme weather on women and girls in future extreme weather conditions. This comparative analysis across geographies will supplement studies focusing on one region and the system reviews of previous research, which only identify the high-level causal relationship and direction between natural disasters and VAW [2] [11] [15].


Glossary of Terms

Gender-based Violence (GBV): An umbrella term for any harmful act that is perpetrated against a person’s will, and that is based on socially ascribed (i.e., gender) differences between males and females. [1]

Femicide: Intentional killing with a gender-related motivation. It may be driven by stereotyped gender roles, discrimination towards women and girls, unequal power relations between women and men, or harmful social norms.

Human trafficking: Human trafficking involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act.

Female Genital Mutilation: Female genital mutilation comprises all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.



[1] Inter-agency Standing Committee. (2015). Guidelines for Integrating Gender-Based Violence Interventions in Humanitarian Action - Reducing Risk, Promoting Resilience and Aiding Recovery.

[2] Daalen, K. R. van, Kallesøe, S. S., Davey, F., Dada, S., Jung, L., Singh, L., Issa, R., Emilian, C. A., Kuhn, I., Keygnaert, I., & Nilsson, M. (2022). Extreme events and gender-based violence: A mixed-methods systematic review. The Lancet Planetary Health, 6(6), e504–e523.

[3] Cannon, T. (2002). Gender and climate hazards in Bangladesh. Gender & Development, 10(2), 45–50.

[4] Epstein, A., Bendavid, E., Nash, D., Charlebois, E. D., & Weiser, S. D. (2020). Drought and intimate partner violence towards women in 19 countries in sub-Saharan Africa during 2011-2018: A population-based study. PLOS Medicine, 17(3), e1003064.

[5] Anastario, M., Shehab, N., & Lawry, L. (2009). Increased Gender-based Violence Among Women Internally Displaced in Mississippi 2 Years Post–Hurricane Katrina. Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness, 3(1), 18–26.

[6] Rajagopalan, L. R., Swarna (Ed.). (2016). Women and Disasters in South Asia: Survival, security and development. Routledge India.

[7] Vasseur, L., Thornbush, M., & Plante, S. (2015). Gender-based Experiences and Perceptions after the 2010 Winter Storms in Atlantic Canada. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 12(10), 12518–12529.

[8] Whittenbury, K. (2013). Climate Change, Women’s Health, Wellbeing and Experiences of Gender-Based Violence in Australia. In M. Alston & K. Whittenbury (Eds.), Research, Action and Policy: Addressing the Gendered Impacts of Climate Change (pp. 207–221). Springer Netherlands.

[9] Dunne, D. (2020, October 29). Mapped: How Climate Change Disproportionately Affects Women’s Health. Carbon Brief.

[10] Pain, N. R., Rachel. (2022). Gender-based Violence and Layered Disasters: Place, culture and survival. Routledge.

[11] Thurston, A. M., Stöckl, H., & Ranganathan, M. (2021). Natural hazards, disasters and violence against women and girls: A global mixed-methods systematic review. BMJ Global Health, 6(4), e004377.

[12] Rezwana, N., & Pain, R. (2021). Gender-based violence before, during, and after cyclones: Slow violence and layered disasters. Disasters, 45(4), 741–761.

[13] International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. (2017). Effective Law and Policy on Gender Equality and Protection from Sexual and Gender-based Violence in Disasters.

[14] Rezwana, N. (2023). Risks and Challenges in Fieldwork on Gender-Based Violence: Gendered Identity, Social Taboo and Culture. In N. Uddin & A. Paul (Eds.), The Palgrave Handbook of Social Fieldwork (pp. 237–251). Springer International Publishing.

[15] Rezaeian, M. (2013). The association between natural disasters and violence: A systematic review of the literature and a call for more epidemiological studies. Journal of Research in Medical Sciences : The Official Journal of Isfahan University of Medical Sciences, 18(12), 1103–1107.

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