Launch of the University College London Centre for Gender and Health

News Post date February 20, 2017

The UCL Institute for Global Health welcomed academics and practitioners to the launch of the Centre for Gender and Health on Thursday 16th February.

The UCL Centre for Gender and Global Health comprises a multidisciplinary team that conducts research and works alongside policy-makers and policy-influencers to address the complex relationships between gender norms and health status.

Rescue Global is partnered with the UCL Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction, and has an interest in this new UCL Centre due to the strong links between gender, health and disasters. At the launch, keynote speakers and panel discussions explored some fascinating concepts and research findings, many of which are pertinent to disaster risk reduction and response.

Gender, specifically gender inequality, plays a major role in vulnerability to disasters and their impacts (in the short and long-term). Societal constructs, which marginalise certain groups, establish these vulnerabilities that both create and exacerbate disasters. When looking at disasters through the ‘gender lens’ it is vital to remember that the subject of gender in crises is not limited only to women (although gender inequality significantly disadvantages women, in general and throughout the disaster cycle, therefore the launch largely focussed upon women), nor can gender be restricted to two binary categories of ‘male’ or ‘female’, instead numerous gender identities exist. Similarly, we must understand the complex intersections between gender oppression and other forms of oppression, such as racism or ableism, and how these contribute to unique experiences of discrimination that create exposure or vulnerability to disaster.

We often talk about empowerment, as a means to reduce these vulnerabilities and help solve some of the issues that societal gender disparity can create. During the launch, the concept of empowerment was examined - with some dismissing the term as another meaningless buzzword, and others striving to assign indices to determine the definition and value of empowerment. Sabina Alkire, of the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative, delivered a thought-provoking presentation on research into women’s empowerment. In attempting to define empowerment, Alkire spoke about human agency and used quotes to exemplify what this can mean to people. One of these quotes read “I believe I can”, which feels particularly relevant to the empowerment of women, not only in working towards achieving autonomy through structural (legislative changes) and cultural (development of collective beliefs) means, but also in altering individuals’ mindsets to achieve assurance over one’s capabilities and decision-making prerogative.

Another important ‘takeaway’ for Rescue Global, from the launch, is that gender empowerment is often most effective as an integrated aspect of wider empowerment efforts. As is acknowledged within the humanitarian sector, but not always applied, gender responsiveness should be fully integrated into disaster risk reduction so as to reduce vulnerabilities and, in turn, reduce risk.

In order to improve this, efforts must be cross-sectoral and collaborative. Academics and practitioners need to work in partnership to fill data gaps, particularly in collecting further disaggregated data, and then use findings to shape the way that we work. Likewise, government and private sector involvement are crucial to engaging a wider audience and beginning to influence social constructs, policy and legislation. In isolation, the ability of each sector to make positive change is limited. That is why, at Rescue Global, we always work in partnership with others who can enable life saving work, through our Crisis and Disaster Resilience Alliance (CaDRA).

The UCL Centre for Gender and Health will undoubtedly continue to raise important questions, and strive to resolve them. We look forward to following, and getting involved, in the valuable work that will be done in this area, which is so critical to disaster risk reduction and response.
Read more about the Centre here: http://ighgc.org/

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