Natural Disasters and Women The Effects of Earthquakes on Women

The most common natural disasters in Japan are earthquakes and typhoons. In 1995 the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake devastated the densely populated urban areas of Kobe. Nearly 1,000 more women than men were killed (Hyogo Prefecture, 2005), including elderly, low-income women who were living alone. There were also reports at the scene of the disaster and at evacuation sites, as well as via a telephone hotline, of violence against women and children. The privately run, toll-free hotline for women suffering from mental/physical problems received a total of 1,635 calls between February and June 1995 related to insomnia, fear, and anxiety; family and human relations; concerns about children, employment, and sexual harassment; and over 100 cases of child abuse (Council for Gender Equality, 2005).

Emergency measures put in place right after the disaster, as well as interventions by the national and local governments, imposed requirements based on the male breadwinner model, leaving women disadvantaged. For example, some full-time women employees who had to take leave after the disaster to care for injured or sick family members and/or clean their houses, lost their jobs, while many women in non-regular employment as part-timers or “dispatched” workers were refused renewed work contracts by managers attempting to reconstruct their damaged companies (dispatched workers are hired and fired by employment agencies).

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