In the wake of the tsunami that hit the coastal communities of the Indian Ocean, images of women were splashed over the media’s reports of the catastrophe. But while sympathy for women has garnered a great deal of aid, “[b]eyond the camera lens in the follow-up policies. . .there is a trend for women to be rendered almost invisible.” Reports by women’s groups streaming in from all over the region reflect the same message-women were among the hardest hit by the tsunami, and women continue to be the most marginalized in relief efforts.
While the relative lack of women-specific initiatives in the tsunami effort arguably could be attributed to the cultural norms of the region and the particular nature of the disaster there, a broader look at disasters worldwide shows that women’s needs and abilities are systemically ignored in rehabilitation and restoration efforts. Although this trend has been recognized by international organizations ranging from the United Nations (U.N.) General Assembly, the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA), the Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW Committee), the U.N. Office for International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR), the International Labor Organization (ILO), and the European Union (EU), there is yet to be a binding global initiative that explicitly calls for gender-mainstreaming in disaster prevention and reconstruction efforts. As a result, when the time comes for nations to respond quickly and efficiently to disasters, the lessons learned in gender- sensitivity are lost in the tumult once again.