The relevance of gender dynamics to coastal hazards resilience might not be immediately obvious. Globally, gender-based differences in social responsibilities and access to financial and political resources make men and women vulnerable to the impacts of tsunamis, hurricanes, flooding, and sea level rise in different ways. Although the gendered nature of these multi-hazard vulnerabilities is well-documented in the context of developing areas, research on gender and coastal hazards in the United States largely focuses on hurricane impacts and flood fatalities. But considering the unique hazard challenges we’re facing in Washington, how might gender affect communities’ vulnerability— and their perceptions of impacts and adaptation choices— to slower-moving hazards like sea level rise?
Similarly, a 2014 analysis from Delaware found interesting differences in how men and women perceive sea level rise. Echoing the Canadian study, women in Delaware were consistently more likely than men to perceive sea level rise as a serious threat to their communities and to themselves. And a greater percentage of women believed that we should take immediate action to reduce the impacts of climate change and sea level rise: women were more likely than men to support most adaptation strategies explored by the survey, including accommodation and avoiding new development in areas at risk from sea level rise. Men, on the other hand, showed less support for these adaptation measures and more frequently believed that they knew “a great deal” about sea level rise.
These examples ground other research on the under-recognized contributions of women to climate change adaptation and the role of adaptation planning and policy as an opportunity to progress toward gender equity. They make me question whether gender-based differences affect perceptions, vulnerabilities, or adaptation choices right here in Washington, too. And if they do, how could coastal hazards resilience planning most effectively address these differences? As a starting point, I’m asking myself and my organization these two questions:
- Are our decision-making bodies and project teams equally representative of different genders, ethnicities, and other identities?
- How might the policies and communications resulting from our work differentially affect or target particular populations in ways we might not have considered before?
During my Hershman fellowship this year, I’m exploring the idea of gender mainstreaming in coastal hazards resilience planning. The premise of gender mainstreaming in environmental policy is that purposefully integrating both men’s and women’s perspectives and participation into every level of planning and programming will create the most effective policies and prevent the perpetuation of inequalities. Considering and responding to gender-based differences in risk perception and adaptation capacity, then, is an important part of planning for coastal hazards resilience in a way that is successful for everyone.