Assuming that the primary purpose of media coverage

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Assuming that the primary purpose of media coverage of disasters is to highlight the impact of such events, as well as their fallout, on diverse sections of the affected people, especially those at most risk, the answer to those questions is a very definite “yes.” The fact is that gender, along with other socio-economic variables such as class and caste, race or ethnicity, age and health status, does influence people’s experience of the events themselves, as well as their access to subsequent help in coping with the consequences and rebuilding their lives. What journalist Praful Bidwai wrote a few days after the disaster is significant in this context: “... Natural disasters are natural only in their causation. Their effects are socially determined and transmitted through mechanisms and arrangements which are the creation of societies and governments. Natural disasters are not socially neutral in their impact. Rather, they pick on the poor and the weak, rather than the privileged.” (The News, Pakistan, 30 Dec. 04) Considering the gender-based inequality and inequity that mark most societies - certainly those affected by the recent tsunamis — women are clearly disadvantaged in multiple ways. It naturally follows that women from the economically and socially deprived communities that usually bear the brunt of disasters — both natural and man-made — are likely to be especially vulnerable in the aftermath of calamities, as well as conflicts, unless special care is taken to ensure that their needs and concerns are taken care of. If disasters are not socially neutral in their impact, clearly policies and programmes for relief, recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction cannot afford to be socially neutral either. If the government and/or other agencies involved in post-disaster or post-conflict work have not yet learnt this well-documented lesson, it is surely up to the media to remind them - and society as a whole — of the special needs, concerns and problems of various groups, including women, in the aftermath of such events. As a recent United Nations press release put it, “The Indian Ocean tsunami may have made no distinction between men and women in the grim death toll it reaped with its waves but it has produced some very gender-specific after-shocks, ranging from women’s traditional role in caring for the sick to increased cases of rape and abuse. Understanding and measuring these differences is essential for an effective response.” There were a few, scattered glimpses in media coverage soon after disaster struck of the special vulnerabilities of women in such situations. For example, there was one story about women having been hampered by their saris in their bid to escape the waves. And another one about women being raped and molested in unprotected refugee camps. The latter, a Reuters report based on a statement by the Women & Media Collective in Sri Lanka, underlined the importance of expanding the range of news sources to be tapped and taken
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  • Spring '17
  • Government, Tamil Nadu, 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake

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