Girls and women were hit hardest by the powerful earthquake that occurred in Morocco in September. The earthquake affected, among other things, women's ability to take care of their hygiene and girls' ability to go to school. Pictured: Gwendolen Eamer, Principal Director of Emergency Operations at the IFRC. Photo: Benoît Carpentier/IFRC.

Development magazine explains

After the earthquake in Morocco: Girls and women hardest hit

Don September 8, Morocco was hit by a strong earthquake which led to approximately 3 000 dead and 6 000 injured, according to FN. Among them var women and girls worst affected, and several organizations emphasize the weight of a gender-aware perspective at disaster response. 

"During natural disasters, crises and conflicts, women and girls are often forgotten. In such events, they also face serious gender-related threats, such as human trafficking and sexual violence". That's what UN Women Sweden writes on its website.

Women and children are statistically speaking 14 times more likely to die in natural disasters than men, esimilar United Nations Development Program (UNDP). In addition, Morocco is one of the countries in the world with the most gender-based inequality, according to the World Economic Forum 2023 Global Gender Gap Index. After the earthquake in September, women's rights organizations point out that it hit women and girls particularly hard. 

Women's opportunity for personal hygiene is affected by the earthquake

Several organizations highlight, among other things, the problem of "period poverty" in Morocco, in Swedish called "menspättigdom". It implies a deficiency on hygiene products, safe places to use them and the right to deal with menstruation without shame or stigma. The organizations mean to the failure to involve women through a gender-aware approach in disaster response has led to a lack of consideration for women's health and hygiene.

- Menstruation is a sensitive issue in many traditional societies, and women's ability to have safe access to menstrual hygiene can be affected in the aftermath of a disaster, says Gwendolen Eamer, Director of Disaster Response at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) to Utvecklingsmagasinet during an interview in October. She continues:

- We have met women who have not had the opportunity to shower since the disaster occurred. Men are often able to bathe in the rivers while women lack that opportunity, and they are forced to choose between returning to their destroyed homes to maintain their hygiene or being exposed in a way that is not socially acceptable.

Women and girls are isolated in the home

Gwendolen Eamer believes that girls and women in rural Morocco are particularly affected by natural disasters - because it risks isolating them even more. Men in Morocco have more opportunities to go out on their own, and for example get to the big cities, which girls and women in the countryside and in the mountains do not always have. This affects, among other things, girls' ability to go to school.

- When girls are forced to leave school due to economic shocks or disasters, they rarely return, which in the long run causes problems such as child marriage and early pregnancy, explains Gwendolen Eamer.

She points out that some girls and women in areas of Morocco that have been affected by natural disasters have been subjected to forced marriages and sexual violence. This has been noticed in social media by both women's rights organizations and activists. Particular attention was paid to when a student in Morocco was sentenced to three months in prison for a social media post that called for the exploitation of underage girls who had been affected by the earthquake.

Need a gender-aware perspective on disaster response

Because girls and women are hit hardest by natural disasters, organizations such as the IFRC believe that a more gender-aware approach to disaster response is needed. Gwendolen Eamer explains that IFRC works, among other things, to ensure that women and men have separate toilets and showers, and that each family sleeps in its own tent.

- Because we know that when several families sleep in the same space, the risk of violence and exploitation increases, she says.

She believes that the whole aspect – how women and children need different types of support, and how societies can be adapted to better meet their needs – needs to be integrated from the very beginning.

- Otherwise, society risks continuing to be structured in a way that mainly benefits men, despite technological improvements, says Gwendolen Eamer.

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