By Lili Bastian
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?
Research on this subject from the Pacific Northwest is limited, but there is evidence from other regions that women and men perceive, plan for, and adapt to the impacts of sea level rise and its associated hazards in different ways. For example, a study of ten Canadian coastal communities found that perceptions of storm surge impacts were closely related to work domains rooted in gender roles: when asked to describe the ways that they had experienced storms, women, who in these communities mostly cared for the home, tended to report flooding to home structures and possessions. In contrast, men, who were mostly at-sea fishermen, reported impacts to transportation and sewage infrastructure. Men participating in this study reported feeling more prepared for storms and discussed a wider variety of preparations than women did, but they also expressed less urgency about responding to the storms. When storms occurred, women were more willing to evacuate.
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:
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.
The contents of this website, including the blog, forum, and links to other sites, are provided for informational use and may not reflect the positions and priorities of all network members, including Washington Sea Grant and the Department of Ecology. Comments posted to this site do not constitute formal public comment. Ecology, Sea Grant and network members do not control or guarantee the accuracy, relevance, timeliness, or completeness of information contained on any linked websites.