Hurricane Katrina was the costliest, and one of the most deadly hurricanes ever to reach the United States.1 Yet, when it made landfall across Plaquemines Parish
on August 29, 2005, Katrina had weakened from a Category 5 to a Category 3 hurricane, with winds that continued to decrease as the storm passed over the greater New
Orleans area. Nevertheless, as is now well known, the impact on New Orleans was catastrophic.
Numerous geographic and political reasons for the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Katrina have been aired at length in the media and addressed by several
governmental and scholarly reports. Far less concern has been directed to understanding how the storm has affected the lives of New Orleanians, particularly
the lives of women and girls. This report is the first in a series of reports from the Newcomb College Center for Research on Women to focus on the gendered dimensions
of disasters. In this report, we place the lives, experiences, perspectives and contributions of women and girls at the center of analysis to better understand the
immediate, and possibly long-term impact of Hurricane Katrina.
Most of the contributors to this report were New Orleans residents in August 2005, and we remain so today. Our position as New Orleanians, as women, and as
researchers trained in participant observation, as well as other qualitative and quantitative methodologies, provides us with a unique perspective on the ways
Hurricane Katrina has affected women and girls. Many of us have held concerns that the needs and experiences of women have been, and continue to be overlooked
or marginalized with regard to disaster management and research. Missing from the research is the recognition that disasters are differentially experienced by women and men. Most reports generalize their findings to all people, or perhaps disaggregate the data based on race and/or ethnicity. Few reports disaggregate the data to provide information specific to women and men—an exception is the work by the Washington based Institute for Women’s Policy Research.2 More common are reports such as The Brookings Institution’s report “Resettling New Orleans: The First Full Picture from the Census” (emphasis added), which makes just one reference to women: as female-householders.3 Yet our common knowledge illuminates the greater economic, social, psychological and physical vulnerability of women, both in the days immediately preceding Hurricane Katrina and in the months and years following.
This report examines the impact of the 2005 hurricane season on women and girls in New Orleans and reports on the status of women in the New Orleans area both pre- and post-Katrina with regard to economic opportunities, housing, health care, mental health, domestic violence, and reproductive health. It also considers how the recovery of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast can build upon the leadership of women to address the needs and include the contributions of women and girls.
Newcomb College Center for Research on Women is a division of the H. Sophie Newcomb Memorial College Institute, Tulane University, New Orleans. It was founded in 1975 at the behest of Newcomb College faculty and staff as the Newcomb Women's Center, and was re-named in 1985 to reflect her emerging focus on research and teaching. She is one of ten interdisciplinary research centers at Tulane University. The Center is the oldest university-based women's center in the Gulf South and is the only regional member of the National Council for Research on Women. We are a longtime institutional member of the National Women's Studies Association.The National Council for Research on Women awarded us her Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009.