Preventing and responding to gender-based violence (GBV) in disasters

What is GBV?

An umbrella term for any harmful act that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to a man, woman, girl or boy on the basis of their gender. Gender-based violence is a result of gender inequality and abuse of power and usually increases during disasters and conflicts. The fact that disasters often occur in areas of conflict suggests that the intersections between GBV, conflict and disasters require more attention.

Types of GBV

Why is it important to prevent and respond to GBV during disasters?

Women and Children are 14 times more likely to die in disasters.[1]

  • During the 1991 0B2 Cyclone in Bangladesh, there were 140,000 casualties. 90% of these were women and girls.[2] 
  • During the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami in Aceh, there were 80,000 casualties.77% of these were women and girls.[3]
  • During the 2008 Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar, there were 84,500 casualties. 61% of these were women and girls. Approximately 33% were children.[4] 
  • During the 2015 Nepal earthquake, there were 8,698 casualties. 55% of these were women and girls.[5]

[1] Neumayer, E., and T. Plumper, ‘The Gendered Nature of Natural Disasters: The Impact of Catastrophic Events on the Gender Gap in Life Expectancy, 1981-2002’, Annals of the Association of American Geographers issue 97

[2] Ikeda, K., ’Gender Differences in Human Loss and Vulnerability in Natural Disasters: A Case Study from Bangladesh’, Indian Journal of Gender Studies, 2:2: 171–93, 1995

[3] Oxfam, “The Tsunami’s impact on Women,” Briefing Note, March 2005.

[4] “Post-Nargis Joint Assessement” (PONJA) released by the Tripartite Group, 2008.

[5] Report by Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare, April 2015


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Silence and lack of data does not mean GBV is not happening

In the 2015 IFRC study on GBV prevention and response in disaster settings[1], respondents in Bangladesh and Samoa mentioned relocation after displacement, inequitable relief distribution and economic hardship after a disaster as triggers for GBV increasing. Safety for women and girls in evacuation centers and shelters is of primary concern.

Out of 4,841 respondents interviewed three months after cyclone Nargis, 31.4% were afraid they were going to be raped and 20.4% were worried about increased violence at home[2].

245 children were intercepted from being trafficked after the 2015 Nepal earthquake[3]

[1] “Unseen, unheard: Gender-based violence in disasters,” 2015.

[2] Women’s Protection Technical Working Group, 2010

[3] UNICEF Press Centre, Nepal Earthquakes: UNICEF Speeds up response to prevent child trafficking, 19 June 2015.


What the IFRC and National Societies are doing about it?

During the 32nd international conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in December 2015, the groundbreaking Resolution 3 “Sexual and gender-based violence: Joint action on prevention and response” was adopted.


What other actors can do about it?

All actors

ALL ACTORS should:

  •  Assume GBV is taking place, even if no reliable data is available
  • Apply the IASC GBV guidelines in specific organizational contexts
  • Explore collaboratively the intersections between GBV, disasters and conflict
  • Increase awareness within organizations and communities that disasters can heighten the risk of GBV.
  • Ensure that GBV and the safety of women and children are considered in all disaster preparedness and planning.
  • Research and gather evidence on GBV in disasters, use it to inform policy.
  • Involve communities in efforts to prevent and address GBV.


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  • Establish effective law enforcement mechanisms and procedures, including relevant criminal laws.
  • Pay attention to GBV risks in disaster management laws, policies and plans.
  • Develop locally-appropriate processes to ensure that women, children and men can report GBV confidentially and in a timely manner.
  • Ensure that information on GBV is collected systematically before and during a disaster.
  • Establish measures which ensure that people living in temporary shelters after disasters are safe.


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HUMANITARIAN ACTORS, such as the Red Cross, NGOs, and other organizations who work on preventing, preparing for, responding to and recovering from disasters should:

  • Gather evidence of GBV in disaster settings
  • Collect good practices
  • Strengthen relations between local and global humanitarian actors
  • Train staff and volunteers how to inquire about GBV related issues
  • Develop and ensure implementation of internal codes of conduct on child protection and prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse.
  • In camp settings, establish committee that can report informally on GBV and provide support mechanisms
  • Improve reporting mechanism and systems for data collection in emergencies


For the Dissemination Kit on SGBV Resolution and Actions, please click here

Click here for the Sexual and gender-based violence: Joint action on prevention and response resolution.

For more information, please contact:

  • May Maloney, Gender and Diversity Advisor, Asia Pacific Regional Office | Tel: +60 3 9207 5819 | Email: 



Unseen, unheard: Gender-based violence in disasters

Unseen, Uneard - GBV case studies

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GBV infographic front

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