Gender equality in the context of multi-hazard early warning systems and disaster risk reduction

The impacts of severe hydrometeorological events are not gender neutral. Gender, along with class, race, age and other intersecting social identities, contributes to shaping the roles, power and resources available to women, men and non-binary in any culture, including the resources necessary for resilience. Women, for example, are often directly responsible for the care of children, sick or older family members and are thus less likely to be able or willing to evacuate alone1 or may delay evacuation to rescue family members or valuables.2

Image: UN Women/Rahel Steinbach

Girls standing on a sea-wall built from plastic bags to prevent flooding in South Tarawa, Kiribati. 29 January 2020. Copyright: UN Women/Rahel Steinbach

Furthermore, women are often placed at greater risk through a lack of timely and relevant information about imminent hazards. Women often do not have equal access to technology, communication and services, and thus miss out on critical information. This is particularly true for women and other marginalized groups in rural or isolated areas. The channels through which women and men get information from also differs. A study in Nepal determined that 71% of men received early warning information through a formal source, such as government or nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), whereas 51% of women received their information through informal social sources such as word of mouth from community or family members.3

A UN Women-UNICEF study focusing on the missing voices of women in disaster risk reduction (DRR) efforts confirmed that gender norms and barriers to their participation affect women’s vulnerability to disasters. Women’s higher illiteracy rates, lower mobility rates and limited access to communications technology, including radios and mobile phones through which early warnings tend to be communicated, all increase their vulnerability. Men also tend to be considered household decision-makers, which can put women at risk. In some cases, women remain at home because their husbands have decided not to evacuate or to wait for their husband to return before leaving. Due to gender-specific roles and expectations, women are more likely to be at home when disaster risks arise and to take on the responsibility for evacuating their family to safety.4

Moreover, the needs of women are inadequately met and their gender-specific contributions and solutions remain unleveraged because their voices are often absent in the design and decision-making processes for multi hazard early warning systems (MHEWS). When women in all their diversity are actively engaged in the development and implementation of disaster management laws, policies, operational plans and procedures and MHEWS identify and address the diverse needs of different groups, DRR efforts become more inclusive and accessible and, ultimately, more successful. Despite growing recognition by international institutions and development practitioners that a gender lens is crucial to understand and promote resilience to climate and security risks, it has yet to be meaningfully applied to research and in practice in climate resilience and DRR efforts (Ide et al., 2021).5 This article explores what WMO, the United Nation Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) and UN Women are learning with regard to gender evaluations in DRR and early warning systems (EWS), and how UN partners are working together to better support Members.

“Well-designed disaster risk reduction and climate change initiatives that provide for the full and effective participation of women can advance substantive gender equality and the empowerment of women, while ensuring that sustainable development, disaster risk reduction and climate change objectives are achieved.” – Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women Recommendation 37.

What we are learning

In 2017, the Caribbean experienced its most costly hurricane season with 17 named storms, 6 of them major hurricanes. Most of the damages were inflicted by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. An evidence-based assessment of the early warning system was carried out by WMO, which included gender considerations.

The following outlines the major findings of the assessment:

  • The Caribbean region was found to have legislative frameworks affirming the equality of men and women, yet structural gender inequalities persist, and these structural inequalities hinder the ability of women to fully participate in EWS processes.
  • Gaps were found in the knowledge and understanding of how to include gender in EWS efforts, however, participants expressed willingness to address this need at both the regional and national levels.
  • Preparation for the 2017 hurricane season included hazard mapping and risk identification, however, little systematic work had been undertaken to understand gender differentiated risks at the community level. As a result of the insufficient use of existing social vulnerability data, the capacity of vulnerable groups to undertake the required actions for their preparedness and safety was not optimally supported.
  • Both genders were noted to have received the messages sent by the authorities. However, there were differences in how men and women responded to the messages. These differences related to how each gender uses time, how households are structured – for example, households headed by women, intergenerational families and so forth – to income levels and to the diversity in risk perceptions. Noteworthy observations included:
    • Men seemed to act out their risk perception through behaviours involving procrastination. It was suggested by male participants in focus groups that such procrastination was an expression of a certain “machismo”. However, this was a stumbling block to making timely preparations.
    • The limited economic and physical resources of single female heads of impoverished households were found to hinder their ability to take the required actions to safeguard themselves and their families, putting them at extreme risk in multi-hazard environments.
    • Communities with strong social support networks and social capital facilitated men and women’s identification of risk and understanding and sharing of knowledge of risks.

Key recommendations included:

  • Hazard monitoring functions of the National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHSs) and National Disaster Offices (NDOs) need strengthening and system-wide testing should be regularized.
  • Systematic efforts to build credibility and trust in the warnings should be undertaken.
  • There is an urgent and continuous need to replace and maintain communication systems and equipment for EWSs due to the impacts of multiple hazards and the destruction of property (vandalism).
  • Greater use should be made of a socioeconomic, evidence-based EWS programme design. There should be more and better targeting of vulnerable groups in EWS messaging – including single female heads of households, single, elderly male heads of households, chronically ill and disabled individuals – when the preparation and dissemination of information on preparedness and response is being considered.
  • Further research should be encouraged on how gender and other axes of social differentiation, such as age, race/ethnic community, household income, etc, intersect with weather and climate events to produce differential security risks for women and men of different backgrounds. Ignoring these dynamics threatens to disempower and exclude socially marginalized people in interventions and policies, leading to lopsided and weak solutions.
  • EWS messaging should make greater use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT). This should be coupled with improved tailoring of messages to women and men.
  • An effort should be made to deepen programmatic understanding of the roles and engagement of transnational families with respect to EWSs in the Caribbean so that they may receive the maximum benefit from EWSs.
  • Gender Bureaux should be better integrated in the work of NDOs and NMHSs in order to more efficiently use existing capacity within government structures.
Sunita_Rai_Bangladesh_UN_Women-Fahad_Kaizer.jpeg Taronga_Kiribati_UNICEF-UN056626-Sokhin.jpeg
Sunita Rai, 40, living in Bangladesh, suffers due to a spinal cord ailment stemming from an injection during a C-section delivery. Her house was seriously damaged  by Cyclone Amphan in September 2020. She used cash support from UN Women to set up a drinking water tank. Copyright: UN Women/Fahad Kaizer Taronga, 16, holds her two-year-old sister Teaborenga while standing in a flooded area in the village of Eita, South Tarawa, Kiribati, Thursday 28 January 2016. Copyright: UNICEF/UN056626/Sokhin

UNDRR Case Study

In 2021, UNDRR, in partnership with Shifting the Power Coalition and ActionAid Australia, undertook a study on the women-led EWS in the Pacific. The Fiji Women’s Weather Watch, Vanuatu’s Women Wetem Weta, Papua New Guinea’s Meri Got Infomesen and Fiji’s Disabled People’s Federation Emergency Operations Centre were the focus of the study. Using existing community networks and a range of different technologies, these initiatives have successfully demonstrated how to communicate real-time information to help diverse groups of women and their communities better prepare for and take early action before disasters strike, ultimately saving lives and livelihoods.

These initiatives use different approaches to empower women and marginalized groups across the Pacific region through early warning information-communication systems. They demonstrate how women’s innovation and use of appropriate and accessible information and communication technology and systems support effective early warning messages in real-time and in local languages, contributing not just to building the resilience of their communities but to supporting women’s agency, leadership, and gender equality.

The study found that these women-led initiatives provide valuable insights for strengthening people-centred, inclusive, accessible, effective and sustainable MHEWS. They are of particular importance in several areas:

  1. Establishing connections with communities: Listening, learning and engaging with existing networks, particularly women’s networks, helps to build strong community connections and permits MHEWS to benefit from locally-led information gathering. Ensuring positive, safe and inclusive participation, and engagement that acknowledges and respects women’s experiences and reflects the diversity within each community, helps broaden ownership and community buy-in for MHEWS. A key component of this is ensuring universal design through effective communication in different languages and improving accessibility.
  2. Strengthening community knowledge: Improving community awareness, in particular women’s understanding of climate change and disaster risks, by using both traditional and modern scientific knowledge helps to inform community level disaster risk management and empowers women to participate. Improving knowledge of disasters also increases the likelihood that early warnings will be actioned when received.
  3. Facilitating community-based data collection and hazard monitoring: Supporting communities through appropriate resourcing and capacity-building helps to improve engagement in systematic data collection about hazards, socio-economic vulnerabilities and disaster impacts in their local area and to strengthen information and data sharing between the community and national level.
  4. Delivering effective early warning messages: By involving communities in the development of messaging and by using different communication channels to transmit messages, they ensure that early warning messages are received and acted upon. Establishing a two-way communication feedback mechanism that allows communities to share real-time information helps to support continued improvement.
  5. Mainstreaming community- and women-led MHEWS: Officially recognizing and supporting community- and women-led MHEWS initiatives and connecting them to broader national and regional MHEWS ecosystem can help to increase access to information. In addition, strengthening links between women-led MHEWS and scientific entities ensures that accurate risk knowledge is communicated widely. This may require the adaptation of laws and policies, annual budget allocations and the composition of decision-making bodies to be more inclusive of women, persons with disabilities and community-led initiatives.
  6. Empowerment and transformative change: There are wide-spread positive ripple effects from well supported community- and women-led MHEWS, including greater gender equality and improvements in the status of women, and broader community-level engagement and empowerment.
Saleha_Begum_Bangladesh_UN_Women-Fahad_Kaizer.jpegSaleha Begum, 45, living in Bangladesh, is a single mother with two physically challenged children and is also in charge of her grandchild. She lost her job as a daily labourer due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Her house was ravaged by Cyclone Amphan in 2020. She used cash support from UN Women to pay off her debts and receive medical treatment for everyone in her family. Copyright: UN Women/Fahad Kaizer
Dominica_UN_Women-Sharon_Carter-Burke.jpegDominica Northeast Women Farmers Group received support from UN Women to get labour and equipment to bring their farms back into production following Hurricane Maria in September 2017. Some 76% of women farmers reported major losses following the hurricane and some women couldn’t immediately return to work because of the damages to their homes. Copyright: UN Women/Sharon Carter-Burke

Mainstreaming gender considerations in MHEWS

The 2015 Conference on the Gender Dimensions of Weather and Climate Services6 served as a milestone of renewed WMO engagement with partner agencies on gender equity efforts. Following the conference, WMO updated its policy on gender equality and developed an action plan to mainstream gender in its governance, working structures, programmes and throughout service delivery. The 2019 WMO publication Gendered Impacts of Weather and Climate: Evidence from Asia, Pacific and Africa presents 18 gender case studies by WMO Members. The case studies provide practical recommendations to NMHSs for bridging information asymmetries and developing gender-responsive services in terms of content, dissemination channels and feedback mechanisms, with the overall goal of enhancing adaptive capacity and reducing negative impacts of weather and climate.

The first session7 of the WMO Commission for Weather, Climate, Water and Related Environmental Services and Applications (Services Commission or SERCOM) in 2021 established a Focal Point on Gender Equality to facilitate and monitor the successful implementation of the WMO Gender Action Plan within SERCOM. The Focal Point was tasked with creating, maintaining and expanding a network of gender focal points and female experts involved in the work of SERCOM. Through their engagement with Gender Focal Point networks in other WMO bodies and UN organizations and the consideration of relevant studies,8 they will promote a better understanding of gender-specific user needs and consequent delivery of gender-responsive weather, hydrological, climate and environmental services.

The Third Multi-Hazard Early Warning Conference (MHEWC-III)9 – From Stock take to Scale on Target G: Accelerating the knowledge and practice of MHEWS for risk informed resilience – on 23 and 24 May aims to propose recommendations to further mainstream gender considerations into WMO MHEWS activities. A gender segment at the Conference will also share good practice. WMO plans to integrate the MHEWC-III outcome statement, including the recommendations on gender, into its interventions and engagement at the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction on 22, 23 and 28 May.

WMO recognizes that diversity and gender equality are crucial for better governance, improved performance and higher levels of organizational creativity. Gender equality and the empowerment of women are of paramount importance for scientific excellence and essential to meeting the challenges of climate change, DRR and sustainable development, particularly Sustainable Development Goal 5: Gender equality. WMO is pleased to be an active contributor to the United Nations Plan of Action on Gender and is resolved in its efforts to work with Members and partners to achieve gender equality, empower women as leaders in disaster risk reduction and climate action and build climate resilient societies.

Children_Solomon_Islands_UNDRR-Rose.jpegChildren in the Solomon Islands. Copyright: UNDRR/Rose

Words in Action

The WMO, UNDRR and UN-SPIDER, together with other partners, are currently developing the Words Into Action (WiA) guide on MHEWS, which will be reviewed at MHEWC-III. This document will guide governments, stakeholders and partners on how to institutionalize, operate, monitor, and strengthen people-centred inclusive approaches for MHEWS that enable early action.

Gender equity in the Volta Basin Adaptation Fund Project

WMO extrabudgetary projects present an opportunity to strengthen gender considerations in EWSs. An example of this is the Volta Basin Adaptation Fund project being implemented in Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Mali and Togo. So far, eight national workshops have been organized on mainstreaming gender into the end-to-end EWS for flood forecasting (E2E-EWS-FF) and Integrated Flood management (IFM) in the Volta Basin countries. The main objective of the workshops was to better understand gender-related issues and needs as well as to develop knowledge and skills on E2E-EWS-FF and IFM. Based on discussions, recommendations and an action plan were submitted to the decision-makers for mainstreaming gender at local and national levels.

Moreover, through a close collaboration with UNDRR, projects to strengthen MHEWS in the Pacific and South East Asia are undergoing analysis to integrate gender and disability across the early-warning-early-action value chain.



1 Community early warning systems: guiding principles. 2012. Geneva, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).
2 Gender and Age Inequality of Disaster Risk. 2019. Geneva, UN Women and UNICEF.
3 Brown et al., 2019: Gender Transformative Early Warning Systems: Experiences from Nepal and Peru. Rugby, UK, Practical Action
4 Gender and Age Inequality of Disaster Risk. 2019. Geneva, UN Women and UNICEF.
5 Ide, T., M.O. Ensor, V. Le Masson and S. Kozak, 2021: Gender in the Climate-Conflict Nexus: “Forgotten” Variables, Alternative Securities, and Hidden Power Dimensions. Politics and Governance, 9(4), 43-52.
6 Organized by WMO, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), UN Women, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), UNDRR, World Health Organization (WHO), and the World Bank.
7 Commission for Weather, Climate, Water and Related Environmental Services and Applications: Abridged Final Report of the First Session (WMO-No. 1259), WMO, 2021.
8 See, for example, the recommendations arising from Beyond vulnerability to gender equality and women’s empowerment and leadership in disaster risk reduction: critical actions for the United Nations system
9 Co-organized by WMO, UNDRR and the United Nations Platform for Space-based Information for Disaster Management and Emergency Response (UN-SPIDER) from the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA), together with other IN-MHEWS partners



By Christa Pudmenzky, University of Southern Queensland, Australia, and SERCOM Gender Focal Point, Ian Lisk, Met Office, United Kingdom, and SERCOM President, Lisa Vitols, Environment and Climate Change Canada, Claudia Ribero, Servicio Meteorológico Nacional (SMN), Argentina, and Gender Focal Point for WMO Services for Aviation, Branwen Millar, United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR), Rahel Steinbach, UN Women, Victoria Bannon and Rosanna Drew, Humanitarian Consulting, Australia, and Erica Allis, Lina Sjaavik, Stephanie Gallasch, Ramesh Tripathi and Barbara Tapia, WMO Secretariat

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