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GDN has a sister organisation which focuses on building the research evidence base for gender and disaster: the Centre for Gender and Disaster at the Institute for Risk and Disaster Recovery (IRDR) at UCL in London.

28 June 2018, Women’s Economic Empowerment in Post-Disaster Reconstruction: A Study of Tohoku. Download the blog here

Blog post #1

by Dr Punam Yadav, Research Fellow, IRDR Centre for Gender and Disaster and Professor Maureen Fordham, Director, IRDR Centre for Gender and Disaster

The IRDR Centre for Gender and Disaster hosted its first seminar event on 28th June 2018. The event was organised in collaboration with DAIWA Anglo-Japanese Foundation. The event was chaired by the Director of the IRDR Centre for Gender and Disaster Professor Maureen Fordham and there were two invited speakers, Asaka Osaki, Visiting Professor from Kwansei Gakuin University and Daniel Morchain, Senior Advisor on Resilience and Climate Adaptation from OXFAM, and the discussant for the evening, Dr Punam Yadav, Research Fellow from the Centre for Gender and Disaster.

The event focused on Women’s Economic Empowerment in post-2011 earthquake and tsunami in Tohoku, Japan. Giving a brief introduction to the context, Professor Fordham said, “women are typically depicted vulnerable” and their agency is completely ignored, which is problematic and misleading. Firstly, women are not a homogeneous category and secondly, they are impacted differently, and play different roles in post disaster situations. Therefore, the diversity of their experiences and their agency need to be recognised for any post disaster reconstruction and recovery.

Visiting Professor Osaki talked about the gendered impacts of the earthquake and tsunami in Tohoku and shared her experience of working with women in Tohoku on a women’s economic empowerment project funded by OXFAM Japan. She talked about a three-step approach for women’s economic empowerment which focussed on building self-confidence, developing critical thinking skills and providing training on entrepreneurial skills. She said the intervention was very successful as women, when they got together as a group, realised that they are not the only ones who suffered but it was the experiences of everybody in that community. They took part in trainings and started their own businesses and since then their lives have completely transformed. Professor Osaki emphasized that gender should be at the core of post-disaster reconstructive as it is an opportunity to transform the society impacted by disaster.

Daniel Morchain, Senior Advisor from OXFAM, gave a very engaging presentation on the assumptions around women, gender and vulnerability. He talked about how women are seen as vulnerable without taking into consideration other intersecting identities such as age, education, ethnicity, economic status, religion and so on. He said, vulnerability is not – or should not be – attached to the gender of a person but there are many intersecting identities/factors that put them into vulnerable situations. He also talked about another common assumption about women as victims. Women are not always the victims, but they are also agents of change so what we need to do in post-disaster situations is to create enabling environments for them to exercise their agency. He also talked about another assumption where gender relations are static. However, that’s not true. Gender relations change depending on the context and likewise, the relations in households. Lastly, he talked about another important assumption, that ‘we know what people want’. He said these assumptions are misleading. He emphasized the importance in needs assessments of understanding which needs to consider, not only present needs but also future aspirations.

Dr Yadav in her discussant’s comment added that local skills and capacities are not taken into consideration even by those who talk about agency. The recognition of what they already have and what they are capable of doing are equally important for the transformation of society coming out of disaster. She also added that vulnerability is not static. It changes over time and with the changing context. Dr Yadav shared some of her work on Nepal where conflict and recent natural hazards have pushed women to do things that they had never done before. However, despite their vulnerabilities in roles, they have transformed their lives and these transformations in small spaces are now challenging the whole notion of womanhood and leading to transformation of society. She also problematised the notion of empowerment, how empowerment is understood as something that is ‘given to you’ by someone who is already empowered, which is not true. Empowerment is not about giving power to somebody, but it is about creating a necessary environment which allows them to exercise their agency. It is also about recognizing what they already have, which may not fit with or could be different from top-down forms of empowerment.

There were some great questions from the audience. They were keen on knowing whether there had been resistances and backlash to these programmes. Whether there needs to be a disaster before we have the opportunity for change. Also, in understanding what these women’s economic programme will mean in the wider Japanese context. Will they lead to some form of wider societal change? Finally, the Director of IRDR, Professor Peter Sammonds, was interested in hearing about considerations beyond this specific project which considered the complexity of the ‘totality of the gender dimension’.



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Centre Activities coming up

Punam Yadav: Guest lecture: Gender, Displacement and Health, Urban Health Module at Bartlett Development Planning Unit, UCL, 14 November 2018.

Centre Activities in July 2018

Punam Yadav: Conference paper: Transforming Effects of War on Women, 25th IPSA World Congress of Political Science, Brisbane, Australia, 21-25 July 2018.

Centre Activities in June 2018

Maureen Fordham and Punam Yadav: DAIWA Foundation & IRDR Centre for Gender and Disaster joint seminar: 'Women’s Economic Empowerment in Post-Disaster Reconstruction: A Study of Tohoku', 28 June 2018.

Centre Activities in May 2018

Punam Yadav: Invited panel discussion speaker, on progress made on SDG goal 5 on Gender Equality, Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House, 16 May 2018.

Centre Activities in April 2018

Punam Yadav: Roundtable discussion 'Global IR: Rules of Power and Power of Rules - young women's voices', International Studies Association Convention, San Francisco, 4-7 April 2018.


Punam Yadav: Conference paper: Women, Peace and Security in Nepal, Durham University, 16-17 April 2018.


Maureen Fordham, Keynote presentation at the Diversity in DIsaster Conference, Melbourne, 17-18 April 2018


Maureen Fordham, Chairing 'The Lived Experience of Women in Roman Cumbria and Beyond' Conference, Senhouse Roman Museum, Maryport, Cumbria, 28 April 2018.

Centre Activities in March 2018

Maureen Fordham presentation to the UK funding councils' (NERC, ESRC, AHRC) workshop for ‘GCRF Building Resilience to natural and man-made environmental Hazards in developing countries’ awards holders, 9th March, Wellcome Trust in London.


Punam Yadav: Guest lecture 'Culture and Gender in Disasters, Conflict, and Humanitarian Crises', to Undergraduate and Postgraduate students at St. Georges College, 18 March 2018


Punam Yadav: Invited speaker to Frankfurt Nepali Society, Germany, 20 March 2018.