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Applying a gender impact assessment to a mental health disaster recovery program

Radhika and her team are involved in developing a disaster recovery framework for a rural mental health service, to assist local families and community members with mental health concerns in the aftermath of a natural disaster. As part of this framework, Radhika’s team is focusing on designing mental health programs to support the local community. Both the overarching framework and the program have been allocated a budget, and Radhika and her team must determine how to best use these funds. The team will conduct a gender impact assessment (GIA) to ensure the program meets the needs of women, men and gender diverse people in the community.

Step 1: Define the issues and challenge assumptions

For the first step of the GIA, Radhika and her team must identify the problem the framework and program are trying to solve. To complete this step, they must make sure they apply a gender lens to the program development and consider the different experiences and impacts of a natural disaster for women, men and gender diverse people.

What is the issue the program is trying to address?

Radhika and her team understand the natural disasters experienced in this regional area have impacted the mental health of people in the community. The program aims to address this issue and ensure adequate supports are available to assist recovery following future disasters.

The team plan to provide mental health assessments and facilitate mental health and wellbeing workshops for community members. They also hope the program will strengthen the support networks of community members through social connections and link people in the community to appropriate services in the broader mental health sector.

Challenging assumptions

Initially, Radhika and her team suggest the program should focus on the mental health needs of young people who are experiencing feelings of loss, hopelessness and isolation after disaster. The team believe tailoring the program to support the mental health of young people will be the most efficient and cost-effective way to assist families and community members. When thinking about gendered differences, they assume people of different genders would use this program at the same rate, and that everyone who uses it will have the same needs.

Completing the gender impact assessment provides an opportunity to think critically about how and why different people will use the program. Applying a gender lens, the team broadens the issues to consider:

  • What are the gendered differences in how people experience disasters?
  • How do needs and priorities regarding disaster recovery differ according to gender?
  • How do other intersecting factors, such as age, disability, ethnicity and sexuality, influence mental health needs and priorities?

Applying a gender lens empowers the group to consider how people of different genders, and with other intersecting attributes, may influence how people experience and recover from disasters.

Broadening the issues with a gendered lens

After brainstorming gendered and intersectional differences amongst themselves, the team identify additional issues to consider:

  • Negative experiences following disasters may affect all members of the community and harm may be compounded by an individual’s gender and other intersectional factors
  • Women are at heightened risk during and after disasters, as they are disproportionately affected by family violence and traditionally have more caring responsibilities
  • Men’s risk of experiencing mental health issues compound with harmful social expectations of masculinity, and stigma may prevent them from seeking help
  • Gender diverse people are often not considered in disaster recovery frameworks, and providing services within a binary system may cause further harm
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people may encounter barriers accessing government care systems due to fear of racism, disrespect, judgement, and a historical pattern of negative government interventions
  • Older people, people with disability and people living alone are at risk of experiencing mental health issues due to feelings of loneliness and isolation stemming from disasters limiting access to support networks.
  • People of all genders from culturally diverse backgrounds are at a greater risk due to stigma around mental health issues, and they may face potential barriers in using culturally safe services and support.
  • The program should be tailored to individuals rather than family units, as gendered differences may cause individuals within a family to experience and recover from disaster in different ways,
  • As not everyone has a family, tailoring the program for families could be exclusionary to members of the community and cause further harm.

At this point, Radhika and her team have found some great starting points to conduct further research. They acknowledge they will need to learn more to ensure their program is accessible and beneficial to more members of the community, and that further research and consultation may reveal more issues to consider and address. This is why collecting data as part of step two is integral to challenging the assumptions identified in step one – it ensures the options and proposed recommendations inform a framework that is designed to appropriately meet the needs of people of different genders and intersectional experiences.

Step 2: Collecting evidence – data, research and consultation

Radhika and her team thoughtfully identified areas to start their thinking, but they recognise the limitations of their current knowledge. So, they consider what they can find out from internal data, desktop research, and consultation and meaningful stakeholder engagement.

To guide their investigation, they consider:

  • Who is likely to be affected?
  • What are the lived experiences of these diverse groups?
  • What different impacts may be likely for different people?

By gathering as much information from as many sources as possible, Radhika and her team can understand the context of their program – that is, why people of different genders need to use their program, and how it will affect them. This will ensure their program is responsive, inclusive, and effective.

Using internal data

To start their search, Radhika and her team consider the internal information, including gender-disaggregated data, that has already been collected and is available to their organisation.

The team look for a variety of data which could help their gender impact assessment, including:

  • Previous commissioned research and policy reports;
  • Project and program evaluation reports;
  • Enquiries and complaints handling data;
  • Survey data, census findings
  • Customer and end-user data including social media data;
  • Consultation and policy submissions.

Reviewing the information already available to their organisation provides the team with a greater understanding of initiatives their company has undertaken, and helps them identify areas where they can promote gender equality and address gender inequality. This gives them a greater understanding of where it would be most beneficial to focus their desktop research and stakeholder engagement.

Data, statistics and desktop research

To begin their search for external data, Radhika and her team turn to the website for the Commission for Gender Equality in the Public Sector (CGEPS), where data sources for conducting a gender impact assessmentExternal Link have been compiled. This page provides a list of statistics and data sources from a range of areas to help the team think critically about the different experiences of women, men, and gender diverse people.

When looking at these statistics, Radhika and her team consider how a person’s circumstances and intersecting factors can influence how people of different genders experience, and recover from, disasters. Conducting this research helps the team determine what is relevant to their assessment and program.

With this in mind, Radhika and her team expand their search to other data sets. They consult the following publicly available sources:

  • Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS)
  • HILDA Survey Data
  • Australian and Torres Strait Islander Data Archive (ATSIDA)
  • World Bank Open Data
  • World Health Organisation (WHO) – Open data repository

They also turn to verified websites, open-source journal articles and research papers, and any other services they have access to (such as the Victorian Government Library Service).

Conducting this research allowed Radhika to find more information on who may be affected, the experiences of the diverse groups, and how they may be impacted differently by both disasters and the recovery framework.

For more information on the importance of desktop research, please see this Victorian Government resourceExternal Link .

Stakeholder engagement

While Radhika and her team have found some excellent information through their research, they recognise the value in discussing experiences with the groups they are trying to support and consider.

The team’s findings from ‘Step 1: Identify Issues’, combined with their desktop research, have helped them identify several local support services, networks, and community groups for consultation. From this, Radhika and her team organise meetings with the following organisations:

  • Local women’s shelters
  • Groups focusing on men’s mental health
  • LGBTIQ+ groups
  • Local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community groups and Elders
  • Community groups for culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) people and those of non-English speaking backgrounds
  • Disability services
  • Older people’s advocacy groups
  • Parent’s groups
  • Youth services
  • Groups dedicated to supporting mental health for all genders
  • Groups dedicated to supporting those affected by poverty and rough sleeping

These groups provide valuable insight to the experiences of people of all genders, as well as the way intersectional factors can compound with gender to cause further harm.

Evidence collected by Radhika and her team

The evidence collected by Radhika and her team using a range of data sources is highly valuable. While many of their findings supported their initial assumptions, the team found that some evidence challenged their first thoughts and revealed new ideas to explore. Overall, the exercise highlighted areas which they may have overlooked had they not completed this research as part of the gender impact assessment. The team found some key insights into the different experiences of people of different genders and other intersecting factors.

The team were careful to document the discussion outcomes of their consultations so that these could be used to inform other programs, policies, and services their organisation is developing or reviewing.

    • Women are often more socially, politically and economically vulnerable, which negatively influences women’s access to post-disaster assistance (World Bank, 2020External Link , Ragus 22 September 2021External Link )
    • During disasters, women are fourteen times more likely to die than men, and are more likely to miss early warning systems due to disproportionate caring responsibilities (Ragus 22 September 2021External Link )
    • These caring responsibilities are often left to women during and after disasters (Zara et al. 2013External Link )
    • Violence against women is increased during and after disaster, as risk factors associated with disaster and recovery enable and exacerbate existing gender inequalities and unequal social norms. This was seen after the 2011 Christchurch earthquakes, as intimate partner violence increased by 40% in rural areas of New Zealand (Thurston et al. 2021External Link )
    • Vulnerability to family violence is also exacerbated by stressors in these settings due to instances of grief, loss, rough sleeping and unemployment, rising tensions and stress (Hazeleger 2013External Link )

    From their research, Radhika and her team expanded their thinking on how women are disproportionately at risk during and after disaster. They noted that the vulnerability experienced by victim-survivors of intimate partner violence and caring responsibilities can cause barriers to using support services, as well as increase the likelihood they will experience mental health concerns. They make a note to use this research to inform their recommendations for delivery, ensuring their program is accessible.

    • One in four Australian men were affected by natural disaster between July 2019 and February 2021, leading to feelings of moderate to severe depression and anxiety (O’Donnell et al. 2022External Link )
    • Although men usually have more power in decision making, they are vulnerable in disasters due to hyper-masculinity norms which normalise risky behaviour, self-destructive coping strategies (including interpersonal violence and substance abuse), and create barriers to asking for help which inhibit recovery from trauma (Zara et al. 2013External Link )
    • Disasters can exacerbate barriers men experience in using support services, which include work commitments, lack of services, costs, long wait times and practices not accepting new patients (O’Donnell et al. 2022External Link ).

    Through this research, Radhika and her team identified key areas of stigma which prevent men from utilising support services. They make a note to use this research to implement strategies to reduce this stigma and target some interventions to address the negative outcomes of hyper-masculinity norms.

    • Gender diverse people often face high levels of discrimination for not conforming to the traditional gender-binary model, often resulting in marginalisation, social and political isolation, and a higher prevalence of mental health issues (Larkin 2019External Link )
    • This discrimination and marginalisation is seen even where gender diverse people have legal rights and protection (Larkin 2019External Link )
    • Research demonstrates that disasters exacerbate vulnerabilities experienced by gender diverse people, resulting in higher rates of stress, anxiety, mental health concerns and poor coping mechanisms (Dominey-Howes 2018External Link )
    • Shelters are often not safe and accessible for gender diverse people, as they often feel exposed and vulnerable to perceived or actual abuse in these close, impersonal, non-private shelter spaces (Dominey-Howes 2018; Dominey-Howes et al. 2016External Link )
    • Emergency management processes often cause harm to gender diverse people by assuming gender binary norms, including shelter registrations and washroom access, which can subject them to harassment and violence (Dominey-Howes 2018External Link ; Larkin 2019External Link ).

    The research of Radhika and her team demonstrated the importance of considering and addressing issues faced by gender diverse people, to ensure they are treated equally.

    • We must consider intersectionality to understand the dynamics shaping compounding vulnerability and resilience (Chaplin, et al. 2019External Link )
    • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people may face barriers accessing government care systems due to fear of racism, disrespect, judgement, and a historical pattern of negative government interventions (Nolan-Isles et al. 2021External Link )
    • Women from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds are more likely to experience social isolation and financial insecurity, with discrimination and racism affecting their ability to be financially independent and leaving them vulnerable to family violence (NIFVS n.d.External Link )
    • People from CALD backgrounds are at greater risk due to stigma surrounding mental health issues, and barriers they may face in accessing culturally safe services and support (Life in Mind n.d.External Link )
    • There are currently inadequate services for children and young people experiencing family violence (FVRIM 2022External Link )
    • Policies with heteronormative practices can exclude and marginalise same-sex families and LGBTIQ+ people during disaster response and recovery programs (Dominey-Howes et al. 2016External Link )
    • Disasters worsen pre-existing poor physical, emotional and mental wellbeing of sexual and gender minorities, resulting in higher rates of stress, anxiety, poor mental health and coping strategies (Dominey-Howes 2018External Link )
    • Older people are greatly affected by disaster, as they may be less prepared, may have long-term medical conditions, live in an isolated setting, or have smaller support networks they can ask for support and help (Phoenix Australia 2022External Link )
    • People with disabilities are disproportionately affected by disasters due to inaccessible response and recovery services (UN n.d.External Link ), and may often experience loneliness, social isolation and low perceived social support (Emerson et al. 2021External Link ).
    • Radhika and her team reflect on their research and understand there are many ways which gender inequality can compound with other forms of inequality to cause further harm. Having identified areas of focus, they can apply these learnings to their program and ensure vulnerable members of our community are not excluded.

    Radhika and her team reflect on their research and understand there are many ways which gender inequality can compound with other forms of inequality to cause further harm. Having identified areas of focus, they can apply these learnings to their program and ensure vulnerable members of the community are not excluded.

Step 3: Evaluate options

After gathering evidence to better understand the context surrounding their program, Radhika and her team begin writing their options analysis.

To consider how their program will affect people of different genders, they compare their initial program plan, which focused on the mental health of young people, with a more inclusive program option conscious of gendered experiences.

  • The first option targets mental health exclusively in young people. This option reflects the team’s initial assumptions; that young people may be disproportionately affected by disasters, and that focusing care in this space would have the most benefits.

    For this option, disaster recovery workshops and counselling groups would be run exclusively onsite in high schools and dedicated youth spaces, places which are accessible and familiar for young attendees. As this option limits the number of locations which would host workshops, Radhika and her team believe this option would save money from their allocated budget.

    Gendered risks of the program

    • Without additional support, workshops may be inaccessible for culturally and linguistically diverse people and the deaf community

    Gendered benefits of the program

    • This option would be available to people of all genders, however no special consideration was given to the gendered impacts of the program or disasters

    Overall impact

    • This option does not consider how mental health interacts with gender and other intersecting factors
    • From their research, the team knows that just because a program is available this does not mean it is accessible
    • The team reflects that this approach could marginalise and exclude vulnerable people within the community
    • Since this option does not address the perspectives and priorities of people of different genders, the team rates the overall gender impact of option 1 as negative.

  • For the second option, Radhika’s team apply their learnings from research and consultation to identify areas of their disaster program that could promote gender equality. They alter the focus of the program so that it targets a broader range of post-disaster community mental health issues, rather than exclusively focusing on young people.

    In option two, delivery is expanded to include more members of the community. The program features mental health screenings and workshops run by diverse staff experienced in cultural sensitivity, LGBTIQ+ experiences and mental health. They would also be attended by volunteer interpreters (in a variety of languages, including Auslan), and educational workshops would be streamed online with closed captions.

    These workshops would be delivered across multiple locations, including various women’s groups, aged care facilities, youth groups and community centres, with opportunities for online participation. This increased variety in locations will allow the team to choose venues with all-gender bathrooms and signage. Marketing materials would be used to reach and appeal to members of the community who may feel hesitant attending. Networking opportunities will also be encouraged in-person and online to help strengthen support networks of all attendees.

    While this option will use more of the budget than option 1, the team will recommend that this option will have a greater impact and ensure marginalised members of the community are not excluded from using the program services.

    Gendered risks of the program

    • In-person workshops may not be accessible to women who are victim-survivors of family violence
    • Stigma surrounding mental health support may still be a barrier for women from culturally diverse backgrounds, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, LGBTIQ+ people, and men

    Gendered benefits of the program

    • Community workshops should decrease feelings of isolation, and streaming online should further encourage participation by older people, people with disability, and women with caring responsibilities
    • Workshops should be run at different times of the day to encourage participation such as during school hours and evenings for people with caring responsibilities
    • Workshops should be run in various locations, including women’s groups, to allow participation by victim-survivors of family violence
    • Volunteer interpreting services will help address any language barriers, encouraging participation by culturally and linguistically diverse women and the deaf community
    • Establishing online forums and networks will strengthen support networks and encourage active participation by women, and others, who may be socially or physically isolated
    • Using venues which have all-gender bathroom options may make gender diverse people feel acknowledged, encouraging attendance
    • Marketing materials can be designed to address stigma and safety concerns felt by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, gender diverse people and men.

    Overall impact

    • This option considers how the experience of gender inequality differs across the community, compounds with intersectionality, and influences why and how individuals use this program.
    • The team rates the overall gender impact of this option as positive.

Step 4: Finalise recommendations

Radhika must now make final recommendations in the development of the program, based on the options analysis completed in Step 3.

Radhika recommends that the organisation proceed with Option 2. This option will facilitate the development of a disaster recovery program that provides mental health support while also considering gendered differences and intersectionality.

As part of this recommendation, she proposes that the program provides on-site mental health assessments and workshops at a variety of locations, including local women’s groups, aged care facilities, youth centres and other community hubs. The staff and volunteer interpreters would be diverse and experienced in cultural safety, running workshops and mental health screenings which will also be available online. Radhika also recommends the program utilises an online presence by establishing online forums and networks, and marketing materials will be developed to address and lessen stigma and perceived safety concerns.

Radhika’s final recommendation also includes the gendered benefits and risks of the program, as outlined within the options analysis.

It is important that when Radhika and her team undertake their options analysis and make a final recommendation, they do not default to the least costly option, or the option which benefits the most people. Doing so may exclude the most marginalised members of the community.

However, Radhika successfully assessed how she could best use the budget to address the problem and support gender equality, using data and research to illustrate the weight of these gendered issues and support her solutions. By demonstrating this approach, Radhika and her team persuaded their leadership team that the recommended option was a cost-effective solution.

Preparing for progress reporting to the Commission

Now that Radhika and her team have completed their gender impact assessment, they consider how to report their progress to the Commission for Gender Equality in the Public Sector per their obligations under the Gender Equality Act 2020.

The progress report is due every two years. They still have time before it’s due, but Radhika understands the benefits of recording this information as early as possible. This will save Radhika and others in her organisation time and effort as the reporting deadline approaches.

The team knows that for the GIA component of the progress report they will need to:

  • Identify all policies, programs and services that were subject to a gender impact assessment
  • Report on the actions taken as a result of the gender impact assessment

Discussing with their manager, the team learn their organisation maintains an internal register of completed gender impact assessments that will capture information for when they submit their progress report. They add information to this register about their recently conducted gender impact assessment.

Reviewed 15 June 2023

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