Women, Vulnerability, and Humanitarian Emergencies

Fionnuala Ni Aolain

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Original languageEnglish
JournalMichigan Journal of Gender and Law
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 2011

Bibliographical note

Reference text: The catastrophic dimensions of humanitarian emergencies are increasingly understood and more visible to states and international institutions. There is greater appreciation for the social, economic and political effects that follow in the short to long term from such catastrophes whatsoever their causes. Rhetorically too, there is some recognition of the gendered dimensions of humanitarian emergencies in policy and institutional contexts. It is generally acknowledged that women are more visible in the refugee and internally displaced communities that typically result from many humanitarian crises. Women, because of their acute care responsibilities in most societies, also disproportionately bear the brunt of familial and communal care responsibilities in communities affected by disaster, war and natural emergencies. Women, given their disparate social and legal status in many jurisdictions may have less access to capital, social goods and other legal means to protect themselves when crises arise. While tacit acknowledgement of this reality increasingly permeates academic and political discourses, the depth of the descriptive often fails to capture and fully grasp the extent of gender harms and gender insecurity. This article offers some preliminary assessment of the intersection of women’s experiences with situations of humanitarian crisis. It does so by a survey of three important but frequently marginalized issues namely: vulnerability, masculinities and security in situations of crisis. In particular the article seeks to explore the particular vulnerabilities experienced by women in the context of humanitarian emergencies. Drawing on Fineman’s theoretical framework ascribing the inevitability of vulnerability, the article proposes a shift in thinking around inevitable dependencies in the international context of humanitarian emergencies that might function to realign our understanding of and response to gendered vulnerabilities. The work identifies the structural limitations and biases inherent in prevailing humanitarian crisis responses, and maps them onto the masculinities inherent in the standard operating procedures of international organizations and the cadre of experts that typically offer solutions to the society in crisis. The conclusion reflects on the limits of current international legal obligations in addressing women’s harms and needs in the context of humanitarian crises.


  • gender
  • humanitarian intervention
  • crisis
  • security
  • women
  • violence
  • international law
  • human rights
  • humanitarian assistance
  • transitional justice

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