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09 Nov 2007 13:20:00 GMT

Blogged by: Emma Batha

Cravero, who heads the U.N. Development Programme's Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery, is spearheading a major new campaign to help women and girls affected by conflicts and natural disasters. The UNDP launched an appeal this week for $10 million to set the ball rolling.

Among other things, the initiative aims to increase women's security in crises, ensure they have access to justice and boost their participation in all stages of the peace and recovery process.

Cravero believes one reason why brutality against women during and after conflicts has got so much worse is because the nature of war has changed. Most conflicts today are not between countries; they are within countries. It may sound strange to say but to some extent armies observe rules of conduct that militias and rebel groups do not.

Sexual and physical violence against women also increases after natural disasters, says Cravero.

This is partly because social mores collapse with the destruction of traditional communities and partly because of the high levels of frustration in camps. With no means to support their family, men take their anger out on women.

Another often overlooked fact is that natural disasters often kill many more women than men. For example, three times as many women died in the Pakistan earthquake as men. Why? Because women were more likely to be indoors and died when their homes collapsed on top of them. In the Indian Ocean tsunami, many women didn't survive simply because they didn't know how to swim.

Women's livelihoods tend to be more vulnerable too. Cravero points to the example of some Caribbean countries where women depend entirely on a single crop. When a hurricane strikes their income is wiped out until they can sow and harvest again. "Men are more able to stick a hammer in their back pocket and get one of the construction jobs for rebuilding," Cravero says. And at the end of the day women are responsible for their children. If they can't put food on the table they may get pushed into selling sex, which in turn increases their vulnerability to HIV/AIDS.

Disaster risk assessments must address women's different needs and skills, the UNDP says in its eight-point plan.