Natural disasters sparked by climate change and other natural hazards can increase the triggers for violence against women and girls, including after the Christchurch earthquakes, according to a new study out of the UK.
A review of the evidence, published in online journal BMJ Global Health, carried out a systematic analysis of 37 relevant studies — 20 quantitative, 16 qualitative and one with a mixed-methods design — looking at the association between disasters from natural hazards and violence against women and girls.
The violence was primarily physical, psychological and sexual. Some studies also looked at murder, controlling or aggressive behaviour, forced early marriage and financial violence, the BMJ said yesterday in a press release.
Researchers say three main possible triggers emerged: an increase in stressors that spark violence, such as trauma, mental health issues, financial insecurity; an increase in enabling environments, such as absence of policing, health and support services, breakdown of family structures and social isolation; and a worsening of existing drivers, such as gender and social inequalities, lack of female representation and inclusion.
More than one-third (37 per cent) of perpetrators were current or former partners, 15 per cent relatives, 12 per cent strangers, 11 per cent authority figures, 8 per cent friends/neighbours and 16.5 per cent unspecified or other types of perpetrators.
Eight of the 20 quantitative studies found that natural disasters were associated with increased violence against women and girls, and four others found positive associations with particular types of violence.
While five found no association between natural disasters and violence against women and girls, two commented on exceptionally high rates of this type of violence before the occurrence of a natural disaster.
But the researchers note that violence against women is often under-reported — a factor that was evident in the qualitiative studies.
The 16 qualitative studies and the one mixed method study all described violence against women and girls in the wake of natural disasters.
There have been 7348 disasters precipitated by natural hazards recorded over the past two decades — nearly double the number recorded between 1980 and 1999 — according to the researchers. Between 2008 and 2017, about 84 per cent of all recorded disasters were related to climate issues.
The research also looked at the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquake, which found that domestic violence increased by 40 per cent in rural areas.
The health consequences for women include accidental pregnancies, unsafe abortions, miscarriages, sexually transmitted infections, poor overall health for mothers and babies, physical injuries, mental health issues, and deaths from murder or suicide.
However, the researchers say more high-quality research is needed to determine the link between natural disasters and violence against women and girls.
“More high-quality research with greater geographical scope and use of standardised exposure and outcome measures is critical to generate further knowledge on the magnitude of the issue and mechanisms,” they said.
The researchers are now calling for the issue to be addressed at the policy level.
"Greater awareness on disaster related [violence against women and girls], gender-sensitive [disaster relief] policies and inclusion of women in disaster management are critical.
"Further, systems for rapid and effective coordination between disaster management, law enforcement and health authorities must be defined clearly to prevent [this type of violence] and address its health consequences."