Disaster Aftermath: Making Women’s Health a Priority

As the post-earthquake fallout in Japan continues and the country and international community scramble to secure much needed resources for victims, the statement given by the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom provides a succinct evaluation: “The devastating situation in Japan should not have been necessary to wake people and governments up to the truth about radiation and the truths about the dangers inherent in nuclear energy.” This disaster makes clear that there is only one way to prevent the repeat of similar (or much worse) nuclear disasters: investment in renewable, green energy and complete nuclear disarmament.

Another important reminder embedded in this disaster is the manner in which women become the yardstick of devastation. The country may be judged healthy by the degree to which it’s women and children are secure. As we learned from the recent disaster in Haiti, the struggle for women in disaster zones continues for months after the last survivor is pulled from the wreckage. As the World Health Organization notes on the website Gender Across Borders, 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.

Again from Gender Across Borders: Let’s not forget the so-called “comfort women” enslaved by the Japanese military during World War II, or allegations about the rape of Japanese women by U.S. soldiers, or the Rape of Nanking, during which as many as 80,000 Chinese women and girls were gang-raped by Japanese soldiers. That doesn’t include the hundreds of thousands of people, many of them women, who were killed by the acute effects of the bombs.

In short, war is particularly disastrous for women. Their impacts reverberate long after bombs are dropped, long after the earth stops shaking. Upon the heels of the recent earthquake, we can only hope that all the parties involved in the disaster response – from aid groups to foreign militaries to friends and neighbors – will make women’s health and safety a priority.

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