woman with purse on the head
Shantelle Binette Spencer/CARE

Women more worried about food security, mental health during humanitarian crises

A new report from CARE International is highlighting the way women and girls experience humanitarian crises differently from men and boys.

The report comes at a time when more than 13 million people have fled their homes due to the war in Ukraine, hunger is nearing famine levels in the Horn of Africa, and humanitarian crises are ongoing in Afghanistan, Syria and Myanmar.

The findings show food security and mental health are bigger worries for women than men, with 52% of Ukrainian women surveyed saying food security is one of their biggest concerns, compared with just 29% of men. Before the escalation of the war in February 2022, these figures were 32% and 16% respectively.

CARE Australia’s Athena Nguyen said the findings showed an often overlooked dimension of humanitarian crises.

“There’s sometimes an assumption that conflict, food insecurity, natural disasters and climate shocks affect all people equally, but this couldn’t be further from the truth,” Ms Nguyen said.

Humanitarian crises have a way of laying bare inequalities and existing vulnerabilities amongst certain groups, and in many cases making them worse. This is often the case for people with disabilities, minority ethnic or religious groups, and — as this report shows — women and girls.
Athena Nguyen, Senior Manager, Capability and Impact Unit, CARE Australia

Looking at survey responses across nine sample countries, including Afghanistan, Ethiopia and Iraq, the most common concern of communities in crisis was livelihoods  — making an income and making ends meet. 53% of women and 50% of men cited this as their biggest concern.

Mental health was the third biggest area of concern, and it was three times more likely to be a concern for women as it was for men.

Women’s Agenda also launched a new report in partnership with CARE Australia titled The Climate Load, which explores how disasters and other impacts of climate change are felt by women in Australia and the Pacific Islands, and the roles they are playing in finding solutions. 

Ms Nguyen said the two reports highlight the gendered dimensions of conflict and climate change.

“Across the world, it is women who are more often expected to take responsibility for feeding their families. In communities where people rely on their own crops for this food, women also do a large share of agricultural work and are generally responsible for collecting water and firewood,” Ms Nguyen said.

When conflict displaces people and disrupts food supply chains, and when climate change affects weather patterns and the availability of natural resources, women have to work harder and longer to feed and care for their families. This is also taking a significant mental toll.
Athena Nguyen, Senior Manager, Capability and Impact Unit, CARE Australia

Ms Nguyen said women needed more opportunities to participate in responding to these challenges.

“We don’t have gender equality in humanitarian decision making, and women are often excluded from decision-making at a local level too.

“This is what our community surveys are about — amplifying women’s voices and experiences during humanitarian crises and calling for more opportunities for them to participate in solutions.”