Women, Vulnerability and Humanitarian Emergencies

18 Pages Posted: 21 May 2010

See all articles by Fionnuala D. Ni Aolain

Fionnuala D. Ni Aolain

University of Minnesota Law School; The Queens University of Belfast

Date Written: May 19, 2010


The catastrophic dimensions of humanitarian emergencies are increasingly understood and more visible to states and international institutions. There is greater appreciation for the social, economic and political effects that follow in the short to long term from such catastrophes whatsoever their causes. Rhetorically too, there is some recognition of the gendered dimensions of humanitarian emergencies in policy and institutional contexts. It is generally acknowledged that women are more visible in the refugee and internally displaced communities that typically result from many humanitarian crises. Women, because of their acute care responsibilities in most societies, also disproportionately bear the brunt of familial and communal care responsibilities in communities affected by disaster, war and natural emergencies. Women, given their disparate social and legal status in many jurisdictions may have less access to capital, social goods and other legal means to protect themselves when crises arise. While tacit acknowledgement of this reality increasingly permeates academic and political discourses, the depth of the descriptive often fails to capture and fully grasp the extent of gender harms and gender insecurity. This article offers some preliminary assessment of the intersection of women’s experiences with situations of humanitarian crisis. It does so by a survey of three important but frequently marginalized issues namely: vulnerability, masculinities and security in situations of crisis. In particular the article seeks to explore the particular vulnerabilities experienced by women in the context of humanitarian emergencies. Drawing on Fineman’s theoretical framework ascribing the inevitability of vulnerability, the article proposes a shift in thinking around inevitable dependencies in the international context of humanitarian emergencies that might function to realign our understanding of and response to gendered vulnerabilities. The work identifies the structural limitations and biases inherent in prevailing humanitarian crisis responses, and maps them onto the masculinities inherent in the standard operating procedures of international organizations and the cadre of experts that typically offer solutions to the society in crisis. The conclusion reflects on the limits of current international legal obligations in addressing women’s harms and needs in the context of humanitarian crises.

Keywords: gender, humanitarian intervention, crisis, security, women, violence, international law, human rights, humanitarian assistance

Suggested Citation

Ni Aolain, Fionnuala D., Women, Vulnerability and Humanitarian Emergencies (May 19, 2010). Minnesota Legal Studies Research Paper No. 10-27, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1611818 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1611818

Fionnuala D. Ni Aolain (Contact Author)

University of Minnesota Law School ( email )

229 19th Ave. So.
Minneapolis, MN 55455
United States
612-624-2318 (Phone)
612-625-2011 (Fax)

The Queens University of Belfast ( email )

University Square
Belfast, County Down
Northern Ireland

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