The danger after the storm: Why women are at risk following Cyclone Idai


Women and girls always suffer disproportionately after a natural disaster and Cyclone Idai, which hit Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe, is no exception.

Women wait in line at an aid distribution by CARE in Dondo District, Mozambique after Cyclone Idai. Image: Josh Estey/CARE

Cyclone Idai swept through Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe, leaving a trail of destruction and turning lives upside down. With homes and vital infrastructure destroyed, women and girls find themselves particularly at risk. Having already lost their homes, food, possessions and, in many cases, loved ones, women and girls now face a new danger of sexual violence and unsafe labour.

Mwangitama Chavula, maternal child health and nutrition coordinator for CARE International in Nsanje, southern Malawi, explained to the Telegraph that women and girls are at a higher risk of sexual violence in the aftermath of disasters.

“We have had no reports of it yet but the chances of it happening are high. Women in these situations are starving, their children have no food, they have no clothes. They have nothing. When they find a man who has finances they may be tempted to offer themselves for sex and men can take advantage of them.”

There are also an estimated 74,600 pregnant women in areas affected by the cyclone in Mozambique, with 43,000 estimated to give birth within the next six months. With many health facilities destroyed and many more inaccessible, these women face the prospect of giving birth in unsafe and unsanitary conditions, without any hope of professional medical assistance.

One such case has already been reported. At a camp for displaced people in southern Malawi, 17-year-old Ginesi gave birth after walking 12 kilometres to escape flood waters.

Ginesi (left) and Lucia (right) both gave birth in a camp for displaced people. Image: KB Mpofu/Christian Aid

Ginesi could not get to hospital because the road was blocked. She had a very traumatic birth experience but was assisted by other mothers in the camp. Because these women have not had anything to eat they couldn’t produce breast milk to begin with.

That’s why Christian Aid is focussed on providing corn soya because it is highly nutritious. Following the food distribution they are now producing milk and breast feeding their babies. 

With few skilled birth attendants or health personnel in the camps, many more women are expected to go through hazardous and traumatic births in the coming months. Many roads and bridges have been blocked or damaged, travel to health facilities can be extremely arduous. Women have aslo reported that they have felt too too embarrassed to travel to health facilities since they only have dirty and tattered clothing.

DEC member charities are working to help women and girls in the wake of Cyclone Idai. Hygiene kits can help women manage their periods, shelter kits can help prevent overcrowding and give women and girls more privacy, food aid can help prevent women from turning to transactional sex to feed themselves and their children. This aid and more is being delivered on the ground today, but much more is needed. You can help.

Please click here to donate to our appeal today.