Hurricane Ivan 2004

Vulnerability of Women and Children

In 2002 approximately 45.5% of the households surveyed reported females as the head of
household. Female-headed households were highest in the KMA (50.8) followed by Other Towns (45.6%) and lowest in the Rural Areas (40.1). As so often is the case in times of crisis, such as natural disasters, the most vulnerable becomes the most affected. An examination of the data regarding those persons who have reported damages to the Ministry of Labour indicated that
female-headed households were over represented in each category of type of damage reported.
Of those household heads who reported their houses completely destroyed, 48% were female,
while those who had reported severe damage and minor damage 57% and 54% were female
heads of households, respectively. The SLC also reports that one of the characteristics of female
headed households in Jamaica is that there is often a higher presence of children in femaleheaded
households (73.8%) compared with those headed by males (64.9%) and a higher proportion of other female adults.
Hurricane Ivan may have impacted many people across the island but the group that seems to be most affected may be Jamaica’s women and children. An outbreak of gastroenteritis in both the under and over 5 year old age groups was reported two weeks following hurricane Ivan and the National Surveillance system noted a marked increase in the number of accidents
such as fractures, lacerations from machete or zinc and nail puncture wounds among the same
age group. In addition, the Ministry of Health has estimated that some 12,500 children may be at
risk for folic acid deficiency due to the expected shortage of fruits and vegetables caused by
hurricane Ivan, which will be available to pregnant women.
The male labour force participation in 2003 was consistently higher (71.4%) for men than
for women (53.2%), and the unemployment rate for women (17.6 %) was almost twice that of
men (9.7%). 5 With the passage of hurricane Ivan and the destruction of many livelihoods,
coupled with the expected period of delay before the productive sectors are able to operate at full
capacity, women’s ability to meet the needs of themselves and their families will become an even more challenging process. The vulnerability of children in Jamaica derives from their living in poor families either in remote rural areas or over-crowded inner city slums. It has been argued
that children living in households dependent on female wage-earners are more vulnerable to
poverty because women face higher rates of unemployment than men and are usually paid less
than men, even for the same work.
Following natural disasters evidence points to differing responses to the crisis by both
men and women and of people in different age groups and socio-economic backgrounds. There
has been little reporting on the possible psychosocial trauma, which the members of the society
may have experienced, or of support provided.

Source: UNECLAC/PIOJ (2004)


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