Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Women and the tsunami

The chilling news of another large earthquake in Indonesia, and more deaths there, has reawakened memories of the cataclysmic tsunami of late 2004. Fortunately, there was no tsunami this time, although I'm sure the people of Indonesia were terrified of a repeat.

Norm Geras recently linked to a BBC report discussing the fact that women were disproportionately represented among the victims of the December tsunami, in a ratio as high as 4 to 1 in some areas. Reading the report, I expected to see a reference to something I'd read about before (unfortunately, I have no recollection of where I read it): that women in third-world countries are less likely than men to know how to swim.

In addition, if one thinks about it, women--even strong women used to physical labor--tend on the average to have less upper body strength than men (please, folks, don't Larry Summersize me here). Since many of the survivors used their arm strength to hold onto something stable to resist the incredibly powerful force of the water, this could also have been part of the reason so many women died as compared to men.

I did a search on all of this and haven't come across much information specifically about the swimming issue, but I did find this extremely PC report with some other speculations as to why women died disproportionately. It makes quite sad and disturbing reading.

The idea is that women's social conditioning may have been a good part of the reason. Here's just one example:

As the first wave raged through the women’s’ huts, the force of the wave ripped off their clothes- disrobed them. It is culturally against the social mores for a woman to be allowed in public without clothes, so the women never ran! The women never left their huts, and in the next waves, they chose (?) or were conditioned to die in their houses paralyzed by fear and custom rather than be seen in their nakedness and live. Apparently, nakedness wasn’t an issue for the male population.

The entire thing bears reading. I haven't a clue as to how reliable this information might be--but hey, it's the Sisters of Mercy talking, so I'll give them the benefit of the doubt.


At 12:19 AM, March 30, 2005, Blogger M.J. said...

Although the situations are not exactly comparable, this brings to mind the incident a few years ago in Saudi Arabia in which a girls' school caught on fire, and the fleeing children were forced back inside the school by some religious police because the kids weren't wearing their head-and-body-covering outdoor clothes. I forget how many girls were burned to death as a result. There was a substantial amount of popular outrage over the incident, but it seemed to die down after awhile, and I don't think any actual changes in the law resulted, unfortunately.

At 12:48 PM, March 30, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I believe that the cultural and religious treatment of women in Indonesia and the surrounding area could have led to many more women losing their lives than men after the tsunami. It is possible.


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