Gender, Development and Disasters

Gender, Development and Disasters

Sarah Bradshaw

Sarah Bradshaw critically examines key notions, such as gender, vulnerability, risk, and humanitarianism, underpinning development and disaster discourse. Case studies are used to demonstrate how disasters are experienced individually and collectively as gendered events. Through consideration of processes to engender development, it problematizes women’s inclusion in disaster response and reconstruction. The study highlights that while women are now central to both disaster response and development, tackling gender inequality is not. By critically reflecting on gendered disaster response and the gendered impact of disasters on processes of development, it exposes some important lessons for future policy.

Chapter 6: Reconstruction or transformation?

Sarah Bradshaw

Subjects: development studies, development studies, family and gender policy, environment, disasters, environmental sociology, social policy and sociology, family and gender policy


The period immediately after an event sees relief efforts to keep people alive, to keep them healthy, and to alleviate suffering. In time, this is replaced by a period of reconstruction. While the relief period is seen as short term, reconstruction involves medium to long-term plans to rebuild infrastructure and livelihoods. The practical elements of reconstruction are generally agreed to be activities such as rebuilding houses, schools, hospitals and infrastructure, and rehabilitating land for agriculture. How- ever, the notion of ‘reconstruction’ has come under scrutiny. The notion of ‘re’-construction suggests building back what was once there but, given that what previously existed could not withstand the force of the event, the utility of just ‘building back’ has been called into question. While survivors may talk of returning to ‘normal’, the academic, NGO and governmental discourse focuses on notions of ‘building back better’ (Kenny 2010). Thus government plans now talk of transformation rather than reconstruction. Following Hurricane Mitch, for example, the region’s governments produced reconstruction plans with titles such as ‘Transforming El Salvador to Reduce its Vulnerabilities’ and slogans such as ‘The government invites you to reconstruct and transform Nicaragua together’. Not only has the need to improve on what existed been recognised within this change in terminology, but also what is included in reconstruction has been widened to include building back ‘better’ liveli- hoods as well as infrastructure. The idea that opportunities for transformation exist after a disaster is largely based on the profound changes that such an event may produce

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