Madrid / Oviedo
Researchers from the University of Oviedo have published a controversial study in which they indicate that natural disasters generate an impact on the societies that suffer them and their populations that goes beyond mere physical or material damage and affects social order and human relations. Frequently, however, studies on disasters consider that earthquakes, floods or pandemics affect the population equally, without taking into account the gender perspective. The study was funded by the Ministry of Science and Innovation and cost €60,500. He is enrolled in the Gender, Disasters and Risks Project (Gender).
The study carried out in this center in Asturias revolves around the Lorca earthquake,
in 2011, and reveals, according to the researchersa double standard when evaluating the role of men and women in the disaster: men play an active role in the rescue, while socially, women are seen, above all, as beneficiaries of male help. The work was published in the journal ‘International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction’, of maximum impact in its area of knowledge.
This research was carried out by Sandra Dema Moreno, Rosario González Arias and Rocío Pérez Gañán, the first two members of the R+D+i project Gender Gender, Disasters and Risks of the University of Oviedo. The three, professors of the Department of Sociology of the University of Oviedo, investigated how people affected by a disaster act and, in particular, how they face the rescue phase, analyzing for this the speech emitted by women and men protagonists of the earthquake that occurred in Lorca on May 11, 2011.
“One of the reasons why we are interested in addressing this issue is because there is a social imaginary, widely disseminated in the media, that relates it to the deployment of traditionally masculine skills and abilities, such as courage and the use of force”, explains Dema Moreno. “These are tasks that are fundamentally carried out by the technical personnel of civil protection and firefighters, as well as the State security forces and bodies, all of them very masculinized institutions. By focusing on rescue from this specialized and professional point of view, the type of actions carried out by the population to save themselves and rescue those around them when a catastrophe occurs is made invisible », she adds.
The analysis carried out shows, according to the researchers, that at the moment in which the catastrophe occurs, men and women display a series of immediate actions that are in line with the expectations and social representations usually related to the traditional roles of gender. The differences can be identified both in the different actions carried out by men and women at the time of evacuation and rescue, as well as in the space and time in which they are carried out and the purpose that motivates them.
protagonists of the rescue
«Men appear as the main protagonists of the rescue phase. Their actions involve the use of force, bravery, speed and decision-making. Much of the male discourse focuses on the rescue action, which it is narrated many times in an epic wayexplaining the details linked to the risk they assume to save lives”, highlights Gonzalez Arias. «Although part of the rescue actions are carried out in the family environment or in their closest neighborhood environment, others are carried out in public space, acquiring great visibility with them. And, on numerous occasions, those rescued are women, known or unknown, which helps to reproduce the symbolic imagery of the hero”, adds this researcher.
Women, meanwhile, approach the rescue phase differently. On the one hand, “women are often seen as simple recipients of male help. This nuance, far from being minor, plays a substantial role in the system of gender relations, not only because the active role they play in the rescue is ignored, but also because their capacity for organization and resilience in emergency contexts is hidden» , emphasizes Pérez Gañán.
Protective action beyond the physical
The analysis of the groups reveals that women also actively participate in evacuation and rescue, which, according to these researchers, makes it necessary to review the very notion of rescue, incorporating their important contributions. “Unlike those of men, female rescue actions are not usually limited to mere rescue action, they entail accompanying rescued people over time, a protective action that goes beyond physical rescue,” she says. . “Likewise, their actions, although they sometimes involve the use of force, also take the form of verbal suggestions and recommendations. It is also worth noting the collective component of their rescue actions, which they carry out in coordination with other women”, says this researcher.
The authors of the work conclude that it is necessary to expand the conceptual limits that define the actions linked to the rescue of people and the times and spaces in which they are carried out in order to generate a change in social perception regarding the role of women in the catastrophe. , more in line with what happens in practice on the ground.