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December Tsunami Killed Four Times More Women

Three months on: New figures show tsunami may have killed up to four times as many women as men

Up to four times as many females as males may have been killed in the tsunami according to new research released this weekend by aid agency Oxfam International.

The figures are released as part of a report showing the impact of the tsunami on women. The sex imbalance is shown in stark terms by new figures in the report:

Oxfam surveyed eight villages in two districts of Aceh, Indonesia for this report. In four villages in the Aceh Besar district, out of 676 survivors only 189 were females. Male survivors outnumbered female survivors by almost 3 to 1. In four villages in North Aceh District, out of 366 deaths, 284 were females. Females accounted for 77% (more than three quarters) of deaths in these villages. In the worst affected village, Kuala Cangkoy, for every one male that died, four females died, or in other words, 80% of deaths were female.

In Cuddalore district, the second most affected district in India, almost three times more women were killed than men, with 391 women killed, compared to 146 men. In Pachaankuppam village the only deaths were those of women. In Sri Lanka too, information from camp surveys suggests a serious imbalance between the number of men and women killed.

More women appear to have been killed by the tsunami for a variety of reasons. These include women staying behind to look for their children (who they were often looking after when the wave hit) and women being less likely to know how to swim or climb palm trees. In Aceh women have a high level of participation in the labour force, but the wave struck on a Sunday when they were at home and the men were out running errands, or were out at sea (where the waves were less ferocious) or working in the fields. Women in India were close to the shore, waiting for the fishermen to come in with their catch. In Sri Lanka in Batticoloa District when the tsunami hit it was the hour women on the east coast usually took their baths in the sea.

The Oxfam data also reveals other aspects of how the tsunami has taken a particular toll on women. These include examples of:

Women experiencing verbal and physical harassment by men in camps and settlements and fearing sexual abuse in the packed resettlement sites Women already being pressured into early marriages. Women in particular are being hit by the loss of income and inability to access cash, with some women at risk of sexual exploitation and forms of dependency from which they will find it hard to recover.

“The tsunami has dealt a crushing blow to women and men across the region. In some villages it now appears that up to 80% of those killed were women. This disproportionate impact will lead to problems for years to come unless everyone working on the aid effort addresses the issue now. We are already hearing about rapes, harassment and forced early marriages. We all need to wake up to this issue and ensure the protection, inclusion and empowerment of the women that have survived,” said, Becky Buell, Oxfam’s Policy Director.

Oxfam is calling on governments, donors and NGOs to act immediately to address these issues by: Collecting and using sex-disaggregated information. Prioritising the protection of women from sexual violence and exploitation, particularly in the camps. Ensuring that earning opportunities are accessible to both men and women, whether in immediate cash for work or in more sustainable livelihood programmes. Working for genuine participation from men and women, at all levels, when assessing needs, delivering aid or evaluating the effectiveness of interventions. Changing the mindsets of agencies and governments from perceiving women as ‘vulnerable victims’, to recognising their status as citizens with specific perspectives. Working with men who have lost their wives to help them adapt to changing gender roles including caring of children. Commissioning and conducting further research into this area. Oxfam is responding to the issue on the ground by ensuring full consultation and participation of women in all livelihoods and cash for work programmes, paying men and women equally on the cash for work programmes, building women’s facilities in areas where they feel secure and ensuring women representatives are elected in communities where Oxfam works. ENDS

Notes A copy of the report will be available online shortly – http://www.oxfam.org.nz.

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