The woman called ”Lifeline” during Black Saturday and said: ”I’m surrounded by flames. My husband just drove out the gate in our car and yelled at me: ”I hope you burn, bitch.” This was a situation described to me by researchers helping Lifeline.

We know domestic violence exists; we know men kill women at an alarming rate, and we know disasters can lead to increased rates of domestic violence. But what are we doing about it?

The ethics of warnings is a complex subject which needs more attention. Last week I posted agencies and NGOs which chose not to warn when clearly they are experienced, reliable, autonomous and are in a position to do so.

But what about agencies who do warn, but do so ignoring the research? That’s a personal and professional ethical dilemma which must also be overcome to decrease the number of people dying and being injured by natural and man made disasters and health emergencies. (The things ”Forewarned” focuses on in our unique training workshops.).

For example we know, because its been widely reported, that 70-80 percent of all people who died in the Boxing Day Indian Ocean Tsunami, were women. If we know that, ethically we must take steps to ensure it never happens again.

Research also tells us (repeatedly) that women who undertake family-care roles are at more risk from natural disasters because of the time it takes to prepare and evacuate the elderly, the children and the sick. If we know that, our warnings must reflect that if we are to reduce deaths and injuries to that group of people.

And yet here is a conclusion to a study of research in Australia after the devastating and generational Black Saturday bushfires of Feb 7, 2009.

Women were also more likely than men to leave on the advice of relatives, friends, neighbours and emergency services personnel. This suggests there are opportunities to tailor messages specifically for women encouraging early evacuation. Interviews provided insights into how responses to bushfire were negotiated within households, with gender relations often playing a key role. There were numerous instances where disagreement arose due to differing intentions. Disagreement often stemmed from men’s reluctance to leave, particularly in households where there had been little planning or discussion about bushfire. Despite identifying clear and statistically significant relationships between gender and intended and actual responses, the research cautioned against broad-brush characterisations of staying to defend as a masculine response and leaving or evacuating as a feminine response. Results showed many women intended to leave (42 per cent) and did stay and defend (42 per cent) during the fire. Clearly, gender is an important factor influencing decisions to evacuate or stay and defend, however, it is not the only factor .” (Australian Journal of Emergency Management • Volume 34, No. 2, April 2019 37, but I found it here )

So, it’s well known there are important different gender responses to fires (and other disasters) so clearly those in charge of warnings must, ethically, provide timely, accurate, contextual and useful warnings to that group of people. But they dont.

I have yet to see a gender specific warning for natural disasters. Yes, there is gender specific ”information,” but ”warnings” are more effective at changing attitudes and behaviours.

Those responsible for issuing warnings should approach their work from an ethical point of view.