Lisa Eklund Lecturer, Department of Sociology, Lund University, Sweden, and Siri Tellier External Lecturer, Copenhagen School of Global Health, University of Copenhagen, Denmark

For more than a decade the humanitarian community has been mandated to mainstream gender in its response to crises. One element of this mandate is a repeated call for sex-disaggregated data to help guide the response. This study examines available analyses, assessments and academic literature to gain insights into whether sex-disaggregated data are generated, accessible and utilised, and appraised what can be leaned from existing data. It finds that there is a gap between policy and practice. Evaluations of humanitarian responses rarely refer to data by sex, and there seems to be little accountability to do so. Yet existing data yield important information, pointing at practical, locally-specific measures to reduce the vulnerability of both males and females. This complements population-level studies noting the tendency for higher female mortality. the study discusses some possible obstacles for the generation of data and hopes to spur debate on how to overcome them.
Keywords: crisis, disaster, evaluation, gender, gender mainstreaming, humanitarian response, sex-disaggregated data


A powerful tropical cyclone – with winds of around 250 kilometres (155 miles) per hour – struck Bangladeth in April 1991, resulting in between 68,000 and 138,000 deaths (Bern et al., 1993; Ikeada, 1995). Mortality data disaggregated by sex and age showed that, in the 20-44 age group, four times more women than men lost their lives (OCHA,2005).
In the aftermath of the event, community members, aid workers and scholars alike studied the data, and concluded, like many others have since, that biological and physiological factors were not enough to explain women’s vulnerability. Instead, many of the risks were rooted in gender norms and stereotypes that put women in danger(Ikeda, 1995).
One major reason why women were more vulnerable was that they had limited mobility. Most moven had not learned to swim and the female dress code made it more difficult for them to escape (Chowdhury et al., 1993). Women needed to find their children before departing their houses for safer ground, and leaving home without being permitted or accompanied by their male relatives was seen as inappropriate (OCHA, 2005). In addition, cyclone warnings had been transmitted mainly in public places, to which women did not have access (Ikeda, 1995; D’Cunba, 1997; UNDAW and UNISDR, 2001).

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