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Gender-specific health related challenges faced by survivors of Cyclone Freddy in Malawi: An Interview with Edith B Milanzi of FemAnalytica

We sat down with Edith B Milanzi from FemAnalytica to learn more about their six month project to investigate the health related gender-specific challenges and impacts faced by survivors of Cyclone Freddy through interviews, surveys and focus group discussions. Their project was recently awarded one of our small grants for work focused on research, advocacy and programmatic interventions related to gender and public health emergencies.

The project will work by identifying and analysing the health-related gender-specific interventions that were implemented by various government and humanitarian organisations, their effectiveness and identifying best practices, and synthesising findings to produce a set of evidence-based lessons learned and recommendations for future gender-responsive disaster management strategies in Malawi.

Okay, so can we start with you just telling me a little bit about your project? 

Our project will examine the health-related gendered impacts of Cyclone Freddie in Malawi. Cyclone Freddy caused floods in March 2023. It continued for a month and was one of the worst cyclones that the country has ever experienced, but we have seen these events occurring more frequently over the last decade. Over two million people were affected, more than 1,000 died, with many more reported missing. So, it was really devastating. 

We want to look at the response – the government response, NGO response and the experience of individuals. We have seen that for the most part the response was targeted at recovery, but specifics around the needs of men and women when it comes to health concerns did not seem to be considered, in terms of humanitarian response. We are interested in speaking to survivors about their experiences, in terms of how they were able to access services and what challenges they faced and whether their gender affected how they got access to those services.

We found that no one has really looked at the health and gender aspects of such a crisis in this context. We wanted to look at these while considering flooding as a climate induced event, as we are going to be seeing more of these in the future. So, it’s high time that we have some sort of concrete evidence based in trying to understand how health and gender interact and how we can address them differently going forward.

Tell us about the next steps in your project

We have just submitted our protocol to the ethics committee, so once that’s done the field work will start. We expect that to start around May or June.

As FemAnalytica we have partners in Malawi, and these partners will be going into the field and undertaking one-on-one interviews with selected survivors as well as facilitating focus group discussions.

We also intend to interview stakeholders that were involved during the response, trying to understand their approach to response. To understand if they have a standard response or whether there is an actual assessment taking place in real time to assess what needs to be addressed. We want to try to understand what the approach to response is, and if there’s gender mainstreaming at the top of that response. And if there is a gender mainstreaming approach, why isn’t it working?

Why is this research important?

The more we talk about how the impact is different for men and women, especially when it comes to health-related needs, the more we can push for targeted interventions. So, you know, making provisions for pregnant women, lactating women being part of the first response instead of being an afterthought.

There’s also a big interplay of cultural, religious and social factors that come into how emergencies are responded to. We want to show sensitivity to those values and try to understand how they shape the humanitarian response, as well as how individuals expect the response to be delivered, due to their religious, cultural and socio-economic backgrounds. There are many factors that need to be, to be considered, but they do all play into the intersection of gendered impacts and health in regard to how we respond to climate induced events.

To give you an example reported in the Malawi Human Rights Commission assessment of the response, in some rural parts of the country some of the clinics required pregnant women to come to the clinic with their husbands if they wanted to access antenatal or perinatal services.  Those who did not come with their husbands were not assisted. And this is in a time when they’re vulnerable and need services, post cyclone.

So, one of our questions is asking individuals “how do you think these responses should be done” and the response to that question will help us to understand whether we also need to magnify the cultural lens of the response maybe.

Tell us a little bit about FemAnalytica and the team

FemAnalytica is a non-profit social enterprise focused on using the power of data to advance the sustainable development goals (SDGs). I’m a medical statistician, so I’m a data person but my co-investigator is a maternal health specialist. We use data to build an understanding of complex issues. And we lack data in Malawi. We founded FemAnalytica to help other non-governmental organisations, non-profits, basically the social sector, to use data to advance the work that they’re doing towards the SDGs.  We are strong advocates for women when it comes to human rights, when it comes to women in STEM, when it comes to education. So, we also have a strong focus on advocating for disaggregated gender data as that is scarce.

We’re also focused on using modern methods of analysis to understand this data. So, while on this project we’re using a qualitative research approach, we’re also looking into other ways of how we can analyse that data to gain additional insights.

Why is a gendered lens particularly important in this project?

There’s a lack of understanding of how certain issues affect men and women differently. And because we don’t have disaggregated data we end up with blanket interventions, both for men and women, and no way to measure whether these are effective.

Additionally, when it comes to climate events, women are the most likely to be to be affected. They’re less likely to be able to access services. In the case of a flood, they’re less likely to be able to swim out. They are tasked with making sure that the children are taken care, and the household is intact. Even though they’re still victims themselves. So, there’s an imbalance when it comes to the expectations placed on women. We want to understand how all this impacts women and what sort of targeted interventions can be deployed.

How is this research part of a bigger picture?

We are certainly looking beyond this project. We are experiencing floods in Malawi at the moment (March 2024), so on the back of this project we want to see if this kind of data collection is something we can make routine. Cyclone Freddy affected the South of the country, but now we are having flooding in the North. We want to collect more data as these events happen so that we have a comprehensive national picture.

We’d like to be able to develop platforms that people can follow in real time. Platforms that use real time data on the specific needs of women, so we can have more targeted responses in the future.

Find out more about our other small grant awardees.


Gender Working Group

We meet online every month to discuss key issues, activities, opportunities and ideas for collaboration. We have a long and growing list of resources on gender and public health emergencies.



Gender Working Group

We meet online every month to discuss key issues, activities, opportunities and ideas for collaboration. We have a long and growing list of resources on gender and public health emergencies.