Cyclone Idai: Why a gender lens is necessary

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| Apr 2, 2019

Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe have been left devastated by the effects of Cyclone Idai which hit south eastern Africa in March.

UN officials estimate that severe flooding triggered by Cyclone Idai has affected nearly 3 million people. Over 900,000 people are in need of urgent relief.

“As I stand amid the destruction a week after the cyclone hit, I try to comprehend the fact that the pile of rocks in front of us were, just a few days before, a bustling town.” -Tinotenda Hondo, Plan International Staff on the ground in Zimbabwe

In addition to meeting the immediate needs of those impacted by Cyclone Idai, we are also conscious that the recovery process in numerous communities will be long. People’s entire livelihoods have been destroyed. In Zimbabwe, for instance, the cyclone hit an area that was already experiencing food insecurity.

Heightened risks for women and girls

Persistent gender norms mean women and girls often eat last or not at all when food supplies are scarce and are tasked with the added responsibility of care and domestic work, lining up to receive food aid and finding clean water.

In the chaos of a crisis, women and girls are most vulnerable to additional risks to their well-being. Adolescent girls are at the highest risk of experiencing sexual violence and harassment, becoming pregnant, being pulled out of school, trafficked, or forced into an early marriage. Trying to find water, for example, often means traveling much further away than before the crisis and that makes women and girls vulnerable to experiencing violence.

Girls and women face unique barriers on their journey to recovery because of their gender and age, over and above the devastation and grief caused by the crises that all those affected encounter. Plan International centers equality for girls without losing sight of the urgent needs of all children and families.

Amela, 20 | Cyclone Idai Survivor, Mozambique

“I spent four days in a tree with my newborn baby.”

Amela gave birth to her third child a few days before the cyclone hit her town. She was at home with her husband, her sister-in-law and her two eldest children, when it happened.

Like 91,000 others in Mozambique, Amela’s house was torn down and flooded. She and her family were forced to flee. In the confusion, the adults ran in different directions – Amela ran to the nearest tree with her newborn, losing sight of her husband and other children.

“All I could think about was saving myself and my baby. I climbed on top of a tree. I spent four days on top of the tree before I saw a boat coming. I was so tired but so happy that help was finally coming.”

Amela made it to safety with more than 800 others – including numerous unaccompanied children and expectant mothers – because of Plan International’s search and rescue efforts.

Amela’s eldest children both survived the cyclone and are being cared for by her sister-in-law, who escaped to a relative’s house on the other side of town. Tragically, her husband drowned in the floods.

Gender Aware Humanitarian Response

Even in the most acute emergencies, all of our humanitarian assistance projects are gender aware gender aware * Gender aware projects and programs challenge gender stereotypes, expose gender-based discrimination and seek to improve the daily condition of women and girls by addressing practical gender issues. They do not try to transform gender relations.  . No project is approved and we are not on the ground until our in-house gender experts have given it the green light.

Plan International’s research shows that adolescent girls and young women like Amela living in overcrowded camps and shelters with communal bathroom facilities are often at great risk gender-based violence when disasters like Cyclone Idai strike.

Plan International is helping prevent such violence by raising awareness among communities of the risks to girls and young women and delivering training to ensure that any incidents are quickly reported to the authorities.

How does your donation help?

Our response on the ground varies by community and country, based on need.

Your donations help us provide things like:

  • Search and rescue
  • Family reunification
  • Child protection (psychosocial support and child-friendly spaces)
  • Clean water and food
  • Sanitation and hygiene
  • Shelter

We are also distributing Dignity Kits to help women and girls manage their periods safely. Each kit contains 6 reusable pads, 2 pairs of underwear, 2 soaps and a bucket to ensure that.

Your gift will have twice the impact!

The Government of Canada is currently matching all donations made by Canadians, dollar-for-dollar for the survivors of Cyclone Idai.

Even in crisis, children have hope for the future. Help us reach them and ensure that their potential isn’t lost.

Donate now!