When many people think about natural disasters what comes to mind is tragedy, devastation, and wreckage that it brings to a community. Women of color however, see a natural disaster as the end of their world. There have been many disasters in America and all over the world that have effected women of color, but one of the most tragic was Hurricane Katrina just a few years ago. Hurricane Katrina first made landfall on August 25, 2005 (Caruso). Katrina was the costliest storm in United States history, as well as the top five in the most deadly with the death toll reaching over 1,836 people.
In addition to the many tragic deaths, there was also a shocking $81.2 billion dollars in damage. According to all of the recorded Atlantic hurricanes, it was the sixth strongest overall (Wesley).
Many women of color do not have the money and/or resources to leave when the hurricane warning hit, so they must just hope for the best. Some women do not even have readily available food for a crisis like a hurricane.
If women do end up in one of the few shelters or safe homes around, they are at an increased risk for violence. In the chaos and social breakdown that accompanies natural disasters, women become uniquely vulnerable to sexual abuse, including rape and gang rape. Domestic violence also increases, with the local authorities often failing to intervene because they may perceive the abuse as a personal matter (Chew and Ramdas). Even though there is an obvious problem with housing crisis’ and sexual abuse, there are very few emergency shelters where Hurricane Katrina occurred and none of them are readily available.
In addition to few emergency shelters, there are no battered women’s shelters (Bierria and Liebenthal).
Women of color are hit the hardest after the natural disaster is over. The main reason this occurs is because housing and occupation are the biggest priorities for all survivors after a disaster subsides. If their children survived the disaster, the women will need to look for work so they can take care of their families. However, since rebuilding what has been lost is the main priority after a disaster, and jobs building roads and bridges largely do not go to women, they have few employment options (Chew and Ramdas). “The Institute for Women’s Policy Research” notes that more women than men left the region after the storm and low-income women of color in particular are having a difficult time coming back home. The institute has found that, before Katrina, women made up 56 percent of the local workforce, but only 46 percent today (Bierria and Liebenthal). The number of families lead by single mothers in the metropolitan area has dropped from 51,000 to less than 17,000. Also, food stamp usage by those single mothers who have returned to the area has quadrupled (Bierria, and Liebenthal).
One important aspect to consider is how to protect these women before the disaster occurs. It would be beneficial to include women in the planning for natural disasters, both before and after they strike. All of these women should have plans on what they would do if a disaster occurred. These women should know a proper escape route, how they will eat, if they need to go to a relief agency, who they can stick together with, and what they would do if their home was destroyed. We should also educate relief agencies on the dangers of violence towards women, so they can have the proper tools to assist them. These agencies should also take special interests in addressing the health needs of women. Since women and children account for more than 75 percent of displaced persons following natural disasters, it is important to make sure there are nearby agencies with the proper supplies and training. If everyone makes a little effort to change, it can make a big difference in many women’s lives (Chew and Ramdas).
Stories read throughout the semester either directly or abstractly relates to this topic. All of the stories we have discussed have been about women. The only difference is not all of these women were going through the same difficulties. The main theme of the stories is that even though we may have different problems, we are all women of color which makes us unique.
Many women in these stories have to deal with different issues like racism, self-identity, and prejudice. Even though these unique women share their different points of view, they really come together as one because they have strength in common.
In the story, “Thinking Again: This Bridge Called My Back” by Rebecca Aanerud, she discusses racism (Anzaldua and Keating, pg. 69). In the beginning of the story, she thought she was not a part of the racist culture because she accepted people. She then changes her understanding of her role in racism from individual practice to structural complicity because after reading “Bridge”, she sees a different point of view. She realizes that she is part of a complex group of people that do not always believe in the right thing, and by not being active in stopping racism, she is part of the problem.
We can relate that to women of color after natural disasters strike. Many women become victims to rape, domestic abuse, and muggings. There are incredible amounts of people who witness these events, but do nothing about it. These people are engaging in complicit behavior because they aren’t stopping the negativity. People think that if they don’t participate in anything wrong themselves, then they are being good people. A new mind set needs to be established that if you are not actively helping someone else when capable, you are part of the problem.
In the story, “Chameleon” by Iobel Andemicael, a women struggles with her sense of self (Anzaldua and Keating Pg.28). She is a young girl who doesn’t like to look at her reflection because she has a hard time accepting who she is. She is not sure how people perceived her identity, ethnicity, culture, and race. This story is about the struggle of her finding her self identity and self-recognition so that she feels comfortable in life. She faces many external pressures that conflict with her sense of self. When thinking about natural disasters, many women of color do not make it out of the area in which the disaster is hit. If these women survive, it leads to a lot of psychological problems, even if they are physically fine. Many women are abandoned by everyone around them, and wait desperately for rescue teams which sometimes never come. If this happens it is no surprise that these women would have self-identity problems. They would start to question their self-worth, family values, and if they deserve to live. It would be incredibly depressing to know the importance of the rescue was minimal.
In the story, “Yo Done Bridge is Falling Down” by Judith Witherow, a women talks about the dismantling of entitlement programs (Anzaldua and Keating pg. 287). She had been fighting for women’s rights for 25 years, and preached about how poverty has the greatest effect on health. She has many different diseases like systemic lupus, multiple sclerosis, endometriosis, cancer, and tapeworm. She claimed that the lack of resources is making our bridge of society fall down. Since she had lived in poverty her whole life, she does not know if any of her conditions correlate with being poor and not having the same opportunities that others with money have.
Entitlements like health care, 401K, free lunch, and social security are an important part of our society that has helped the author, and she wants to fight the cut of these programs because people really need them.
Women of color who are subjected to natural disasters really benefit from relief agencies that provide shelter, clothes, food, and safety. Some areas do not have any of these agencies around. This causes problems for women because if they need some kind of help, they have nowhere to get it. There is at least two times as many animal shelters as there are women’s shelters. Our government is obviously not putting funding where it is necessary. Many women of color rely on these entitlements to get them through the rough times of having their homes destroyed. When the government closes down these important agencies, it limits the health, safety, and well being of these women.
In the story, “Standing on This Bridge” by Chandra Ford, the author tells an intense bibliography about how a young, black nationalist struggles with her memories and issues with being raped because of her sexual orientation (Anzaldua and Keating Pg. 304). Ford was raped violently by M. and he even humiliated her in the process. “Another humiliating thing is he kept staring… at my face and body and if I made any movement, he would attack me or do something awful to me.” (Pg. 305) They continued to violate Ford because she was a lesbian and a woman.
It didn’t matter that she was a Black Nationalist because all they saw was that she was gay and used that as an excuse to penetrate her. Chandra found out he was working at a rape crisis center to be a counselor, she tried to inform the workers about the situation at hand. When they refused to believe her, and even went as far as to say they would be on M.’s side in court, she took the next step so that she would be proud to call herself a feminist. Chandra’s trust, sense of safety, and thoughts about the community were shattered.
When women of color face a natural disaster, they desire trust, safety, and for a community to work the way it’s supposed to. Many women find their trust broken when they get subjected to violence by their own husbands or boyfriends. They also completely lose their sense of safety because not only are their homes demolished, but they sometimes have nowhere to turn to. Even the way they view the community changes because they expect to be rescued promptly, and helped get somewhere safe and warm, but this doesn’t occur. Many of us think our tax dollars ensure all of this to happen, but for many women of color no services are readily available. It is hard for some of these women to have their world completely turned upside.