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‘Just ask’: looking at the experi. . .

‘Just ask’: looking at the experiences of men after the 2009 Victorian Bushfires

By Bridget Tehan.
Published on the VCOSS Voice on 5 December 2013.

The ‘Just ask: Experiences of men after disaster’ conference was held this week in Melbourne. Convened by Women’s Health Goulburn North East (WHGNE), the conference brought together representatives from the emergency management sector, Federal, State and Local Governments, and other key organisations to inform responses to men in disasters.

At the conference WHGNE released Men on Black Saturday: Risks and opportunities for change, a new report that explores the extent of the impacts the 2009 Victorian Bushfires had specifically on men.

The report provides many harrowing personal stories and stark insights into the effects of the bushfires on men and the people and communities around them. We have chosen not to reprint them in this blog, so they can be best read carefully in their context.

Key findings from the report show that:

  • disaster impacts can be severe and long-lasting
  • community aggression and male violence increase
  • gender norms are more salient after disaster and can harm both men and women
  • alcohol abuse, mental health issues, and suicide arise in the aftermath
  • employment issues post-disaster are often a major source of disruption
  • men, in particular, may be penalised for seeking psychological help
  • men will talk about their disaster experiences – they just need to be asked.

The report has given men the opportunity to speak about their own experiences. WHGNE researchers, in partnership with Monash Injury Research Institute, spoke at length with 32 men who experienced the 2009 Bushfires. The report captures these men’s first-person accounts of how they prepared for and responded to the fires, the physical and emotional exhaustion they suffered, and their feelings of powerlessness. It also provides accounts of their experiences of the recovery process, including challenges related to community divisions, economic loss and workplace issues, emotional and physical violence, and feelings of helplessness.

Men on Black Saturday: Risks and opportunities for change offers emergency services and other organisations to be better equipped to support men before, during and after disasters and to help minimise harmful behaviours that can affect people and communities years after a disaster hits. It provides detailed recommendations on the following four core areas:

  • reducing gender stereotyping in emergency management
  • reducing the vulnerability of emergency services workers and other first responders
  • improving individual support for survivor physical, mental and emotional health
  • offering equal opportunities and respect to all disaster survivors.

Men on Black Saturday: Risks and opportunities for change was inspired by WHGNE’s 2011 report The Way He Tells It: Relationships After Black Saturday, which explored increases in family violence after the 2009 Bushfires. Concerns were raised during the research for that report from women and workers about men’s ability or inability to cope after the bushfires.

VCOSS welcomes WHGNE’s new report that adds to our knowledge around disaster and gender.

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