What’s so hard about writing a fire plan? The central role of gendered expectations in bushfire planning

Debra Parkinson, Alyssa Duncan

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (Book)Researchpeer-review


This paper draws on research after the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires to identify the ways gender influenced experiences of escaping or fighting the 2009 bushfires, and the link between gender roles and heterosexual couples’ avoidance of fire plan discussions. In Australia, perceptions of men having greater bushfire mortality risk are overestimated (40% 1958- 2008 were female). Most female deaths are attributed to leaving too late. Alignment of gender roles with bushfire behaviour reflects social conditioning that denotes men as ‘protectors/providers’ and women as ‘nurturers’. Gendered expectations have high costs, and despite the proven risk of not having a fire plan, few have written one. Ethics approval was granted for qualitative research with 109 participants, using modified grounded theory. Data showed gendered expectations are harmful and were exacerbated on Black Saturday. Women escaped alone or with children, often in terrifying circumstances, or had limited autonomy, while it was men who were predominantly in fire trucks or refusing to leave. Terminology in attributing cause of death is highly gendered - women/passivity, men/action. This not only does not align with participants’ accounts, but also has implications for household bushfire planning. This study contributes to scarce research. Awareness of gender dynamics is essential to encouraging households to write fire plans, and the first step towards individual behaviour change and systemic change. Understanding gender will demystify women’s and men’s motivations for wanting to stay and defend, or leave, and may allow logical examination of priorities in fire planning.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationDiversity in Disaster
EditorsJohn Bates
Place of PublicationMelbourne Vic Australia
PublisherAustralian Institute for Disaster Resilience
Number of pages7
Publication statusPublished - 2018

Publication series

NameAustralian Journal of Emergency Management Monograph Series
PublisherAustralian Institute for Disaster Resilience


  • gender cultures
  • bushfire
  • disaster
  • fire plan
  • emergency management

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