Over 3,600  people have been confirmed dead after last Friday’s devastating earthquake and subsequent tsunami in Japan. Half a million people are homeless. The images coming out of Japan are tragic and heart-breaking. They confirm a frightening truth- that even the most developed, disaster-prepared nations are at the mercy of mother nature.
As a global community, we have endured a frightening number of natural disasters in the last decade.  This is not the first tsunami; in 2004, the massive Indian Ocean tsunami killed an estimated 230,000 people in 14 countries.  In 2005, over a million Americans were displaced as a result of Hurricane Katrina. Estimates place the death toll of last year’s earthquake in Haiti between 50,000 and 300,000 people. The rebuilding efforts there are still just beginning.
What do all of these natural disasters have in common? Regardless of location, each of them has disproportionately affected women and children. On average, women and children make up 75% of the people displaced by these tragedies. Women are more susceptible to domestic and sexual violence in the period of chaos and high stress after disasters. Because of their socially- constructed roles, women are more likely to struggle to find work after disasters, and will experience a longer period of financial distress.
The Japanese earthquake is a terrible tragedy that our global community must join together to overcome. However, it is also an opportunity to get relief and recovery efforts right. The Global Fund for Women suggests the following guidelines for a relief effort that addresses the needs of women and children:

  • Include women in planning before and after disasters.
  • Ensure women’s physical safety by creating safe spaces and maintaining rule of law.
  • Protect girls’ education.
  • Target women’s health needs and provide the extra supplies that women need to stay healthy.
  • Help women regain economic self-sufficiency through targeted opportunities and projects.
  • Ensure equal aid distribution across genders.
  • Bring women into all aspects of decision-making and rebuilding.

Please consider donating a few dollars to the relief efforts.  As citizens in our global community, it is our responsibility to band together in times of crisis.  Donate to one of the many extraordinary aid agencies like the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, and Doctors Without Borders.  Or make a donation specifically target to women and children by giving to organizations like the Global Fund for Women and Save the Children.
Already helping with the relief effort?  Please share other opportunities for our readers to get involved!
Photo courtesy of Save the Children.