CAF uses gender-based analysis to assist in flood relief

Members of 5 Combat Engineer Regiment talk to a resident in a flooded area of Gatineau about his situation during Op LENTUS 17, on May 9. Photo: Cpl Gabrielle DesRochers
Members of 5 Combat Engineer Regiment talk to a resident in a flooded area of Gatineau about his situation during Op LENTUS 17, on May 9. Photo: Cpl Gabrielle DesRochers

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When the St. Lawrence River overflowed its banks in early May, more than 4000 people were evacuated from their homes and almost 160 communities across Quebec were affected. In support of civil authorities, the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) stepped up to assist those in need, and members could be seen filling sandbags, building dikes, and helping to evacuate citizens and strengthen critical infrastructure against the flooding.

At the centre of all this furor were the Civil-Military Cooperation (CIMIC) teams, whose job it was to pass vital information between civil and military commands. From Gatineau to Trois-Rivières, the flood affected people of all walks of life.

“[General Gosselin] made it known at every step that we were going to take care of everyone by using GBA+ guidelines,” said 2nd Canadian Division’s Gender Advisor Elise Vallée.

Gender-Based Analysis Plus (GBA+) is an analytical competency used to examine the different experiences of women and men of differing backgrounds. The ‘Plus’ focuses on intersecting identities: how an individual can belong to more than one group—such as income level, ethnicity, or gender—and acknowledges that policies, programs, and operations impact one person differently from another, based on their experiences and backgrounds.

For CIMIC teams on the streets of Gatineau or Berthierville, it meant keeping a careful watch not only for people who might be affected differently by the disaster, but also for those who might access relief efforts differently. Their CIMIC training coupled with GBA+ considerations helped the team identify vulnerable segments of the population who might be uniquely affected or have little access to support networks.

For example, analysts back at Longue-Point used open-source tools to identify neighbourhoods in Gatineau with higher numbers of elderly residents of low income. Another study highlighted areas with single-parent households, while yet another described linguistic minorities in the region. Using GBA+ considerations, CIMIC teams sought to highlight groups which might otherwise fall through the cracks.

On the broad plains of Mauricie, CIMIC operator Sergeant Maxime Duchesne worked with civil authorities to locate areas where residents needed specialized assistance. Among the flood-stricken residents of Saint-Barthélemy, they highlighted zones where individuals lived with reduced mobility, chronic health problems, and mental health concerns. CAF vehicles were then used to deliver health care providers and therapists to the affected areas.

Operation LENTUS 17 marked the first time GBA+ has been employed in a domestic operation in Quebec, if not Canada.

“We’re pioneers,” said Ms. Vallée. “We couldn’t base this on anything that had been done before; no prior experiences.”

CIMIC operators are specialists in interacting with civilian groups and liaising between agencies. Built into their training is a special attention to socio-cultural considerations, making them the perfect team for the job.

It was an obvious decision from Ms. Vallée’s point of view: “We [2 Div] decided to go with CIMIC, as they’re really the experts in seeking out this information.”

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