In the aftermath of the disaster in Japan, it is crucial to recognize and address the particular vulnerabilities of women and children. There is nothing new about this, but these needs are rarely addressed adequately. Make no mistake, addressing food and water needs, shelter needs, clean up and trying to stop the unfolding nuclear disaster are critical, but that does not minimize women-specific needs. Via Gender Across Borders,
As the World Health Organization notes, women and children account for more than 75 percent of people displaced by disasters. For those women, disaster magnifies health care disparities and the burdens assigned by gender roles…
…As caretakers, women may spearhead the family’s search for shelter and safety. Away from home, the women displaced in Japan could face increased vulnerability to sexual assault.
There are already reports of vulnerable women being preyed upon,
There have been reports of men approaching single women, pretending to be a police officer or someone from an aid organization offering to take them to a ‘safer place’. They are trying to take advantage of stranded women during the crisis. Please spread this around, and tell anyone you know who is in Japan. Don’t go anywhere alone, buddy up with someone and stick together.
And bear in mind that interpersonal violence is already a huge issue in Japan. Domestic violence in Japan jumped 20.2 per cent in 2010. In most cases the victims are women. Also, while it is good that American troops are providing humanitarian assistance, it is important to remember that there is a long history of American soldiers preying on Japanese women near U.S. military bases in Japan.
A women-only shelter has been set up. The contact information is:
Asia Japan Women’s Resource Center
Shibuya Coop 311
Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 150
In addition to physical safety concerns, there are also concerns for pregnant women who may not be able to get adequate health care. But beyond that there is another crucial concern in the aftermath of this disaster. As The Daily Beast points out,
A full-blown nuclear meltdown would be devastating for pregnant women and their fetuses, which are particularly vulnerable to the lasting effects of radiation. Should the worst-case scenario become a reality, it could lead to a generation of children born with all manner of maladies, from congenital malformation to mental retardation. Even at radiation levels too low to make a mother-to-be sick, health consequences for a fetus can be severe, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention…
…Because ionizing radiation can cause DNA damage, it can thwart the cell division necessary for healthy formation of essential organs. Birth defects resulting from exposure to radiation include smaller organs, microcephaly (a condition in which a baby is born with a smaller brain) and lowered cognitive functioning. However, these effects “usually require relatively high doses of radiation” and such extreme levels are not yet confirmed, said Dr. Douple in an email.
Finally, many women in shelters are without such basics as tampons and babies need diapers, formula, etc. supplies of which are usually an afterthought, but the need is very real.
As aid begins to make its way to Japan, the vulnerabilities specifically experienced by women and children need to be fully addressed and an integral part of relief efforts.