Gender inequality is exacerbated in the face of unprecedented change

AAYLF delegate from Australia Elise Giles explores the tragic prevalence of gender inequality, particularly in post-disaster and crisis situations.

More than ever, our region is facing unprecedented changes ranging from natural disasters, to the climate crisis and geopolitical instability. Recent predictions indicate that by 2050 much of Ho Chi Minh City in Viet Nam could all but disappear due to rising sea levels [1]. At present, there are grave concerns to the availability of water across the Murray-Darling Basin, the food bowl of Australia [2]. These are just two examples from the ASEAN and Australia region, and sadly there are countless other predictions and events of similar nature that are currently occurring.

Catastrophes such as natural disasters and the impacts associated with the climate crisis have seen a rapid escalation of gendered impacts [3]. Gender inequality will be exacerbated during these times of unparalleled change and I’m not optimistic our region is adequately prepared to develop policies that are gender sensitive.

Following the 2004 Indian Ocean Boxing Day tsunami in Aceh, Indonesia it was determined up to four girls and women died for every male – namely due to the gendered differences in ability to respond during times of a disaster and also of cultural preferences towards men [4].

On the other hand, during the aftermath of supertyphoon Haiyan, which hit the Philippines in 2013, findings revealed disaster recovery efforts relied heavily on the mobilisation of women, particularly through unpaid labour and their role as primary caregivers [5]. Interestingly, the significant role of gendered service, for both women and men, and sacrifice in filling critical recovery gaps were seen to have increasingly diverted post-disaster responsibilities away from the Government [5]

While both examples are unintentional, this diverted responsibility and economic austerity resulted in the implementation of policies that had disproportionate harms to women and girls, who are often in greater need of these services, particularly during times of crisis [6].

Following these disaster events, countries such as the Philippines have been increasingly progressive in their approaches to disaster preparations [7] however not all disaster risk reduction policies and programmes across Australia and the ASEAN region take gender into consideration. 

While much research has focused on disasters within developing countries, there is a lack of attention to gendered policies in Australia, particularly when further investigating the impacts of climate related events.

During times of extreme Australian drought, significant gendered impacts have been brought to the surface [8]. While both genders are significantly impacted, in rural Australia the changes in gender roles has resulted in women needing to seek alternative employment; increased contributions on the farm; and also impacts on health associated with the emotional burden resulting from the effects of the drought9. While an increased generation of income should provide women with improved equality in the relationship, it is argued that in fact their position is compromised by their absence on the farm, because this is seen as merely a temporary “survival strategy” [9]

Gender dimensions should be the forefront for those who are developing and implementing policy, and consideration of these issues are key to ultimately achieving gender responsive policies in ASEAN countries and Australia. Men are still overrepresented in top-level management of policy making and the absence of women’s participation consequently limits the female voice in the development of policies [10]. Additionally, the lack of gendered data significantly inhibits a country’s ability to be able to develop gender responsive policies and programs [11].

We all need to understand the gendered consequences of climate events, and the value of applying a gender lens that takes into consideration both genders when developing and implementing our policies. While the problem is indeed a global issue, the role of young leaders, both in Australia and ASEAN countries, is incredibly important in preparing our region for the unprecedented changes ahead.


About the author

Elise Giles is a Capability Development Manager at Asialink Business, Australia’s National Centre for Asia Capability and Policy Manager at the Australia-Vietnam Young Leadership Dialogue. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author. Elise can be reached at


  1.  Lu, D.,  & Flavelle, C. (2019). “’Alarm bells’: rising seas to erase more cities by 2050”. Sydney Morning Herald. Sourced:
  2. McCormick, B. 2013. Murray-Darling Basin management. Parliament of Australia, Sourced:
  3. Lewis, N. (2006). Sustainable development through a gendered lens: climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction. DOI:
  4. Sloane, J. (2019). The Gender Dimensions of a Changing Climate. Asia Foundation website.
  5. Tanyag, M. (2018). Resilience, female altruism, and bodily autonomy: Disaster-induced displacement in post-haiyan Philippines. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 43(3), 563-585.
  6. Su, Y., & Tanyag, M. (2019). Globalising myths of survival: post-disaster households after Typhoon Haiyan. Gender, Place & Culture, 1-23.
  7. United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific. (2015). Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment in Asia and the Pacific. Source
  8. Alston, M., & Kent, J. (2004). Social impacts of drought. Centre for Rural Social Research, Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga, NSW.
  9. Alston, M. (2011). Gender and climate change in Australia. Journal of Sociology, 47(1), 53-70.
  10. Schofield, T., & Goodwin, S. (2005). Gender politics and public policy making: Prospects for advancing gender equality. Policy and society, 24(4), 25-44.
  11. United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. (2010). Achieving Gender Equality, Women’s Empowerment and Strengthening Development Cooperation. Source

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