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Gender, Vulnerability, and the Experts: Responding to the Maldives Tsunami


  • I would like to thank Dr Jacqueline Siapno and Dr Kalissa Alexeyeff for providing invaluable feedback on earlier drafts of this paper. I also acknowledge the very useful input by the anonymous referees of Development and Change. In addition, I am extremely grateful to all those I worked with and learnt from in the aftermath of the tsunami in the Maldives.


This article examines the initial response by national and international agencies to gender issues during the aftermath of the Maldives tsunami, arguing that it was, in general, inadequate. Some agencies took a gender blind approach, ignoring different impacts on men and women, as well as the effects of complex gender relations on relief and recovery efforts. Other agencies paid greater attention to gender relations in their response but tended to focus exclusively on the universal category of the ‘vulnerable woman’ requiring special assistance, whilst at the same time ignoring men's vulnerabilities. This article argues that such language entrenched women as victims, excluding them from leadership and decision-making roles and as such served to reinforce and re-inscribe women's trauma. It is suggested that it is partly because of the nature of international bureaucracies and the fact that this disaster drew foreign ‘experts’ from around the world that the response neglected or over-simplified gender issues.