Disasters and drowning are not gender-neutral. As we know from decades of research into the gender dimensions of disaster risk reduction, gender, along with age and disability, is a key vulnerability factor. Women and girls tend to die disproportionately more than men and boys in disaster situations, largely due to differences in social, cultural and economic rights.
For example, in the 2007 Bangladesh and Indonesian tsunamis, female mortality was far higher than male mortality, due to cultural norms making it less likely that young girls learn to swim (Demetriades and Esplen 2008). According to IUCN research, in the 1991 cyclone disasters in Bangladesh, 90% of the 140,000 people who died were women (Ikeda, 1995).
According to Oxfam’s research in 2005 in Sri Lanka, it was easier for men to survive during the tsunami because ‘knowing how to swim and climb trees is mainly taught to boys. This social prejudice means that girls and women in Sri Lanka have very few possibilities of surviving in future disasters.’
The need to challenge and change prejudicial cultural and social norms regarding gender difference, which can often have lethal consequences, is a key driver of the TEACH A GIRL TO SWIM campaign.