A new study says women are best at preparing for bioterror.For men, the best bet to survive a biochemical terrorist attack is to give their wives a free hand at preparing for it. This is one of the findings from a recent study on preparedness of the civilian population for non-conventional warfare in Israel. This study, done by the Technion, Israel?s Institute of Technology, and commissioned by the Israel Home Front Command, is based on a representative sample of Israel?s urban household population. The advice came from a definitive analysis of over 800 individual responses which showed that one key factor that influenced skill level in having available and properly using gas mask kits, nerve gas antidotes and other protective gear, was gender-related.

Women, it seems, especially those who are married and have children, are the most sensitive to the need for being prepared in cases of non-conventional warfare. They are also better trained to properly use the equipment. This behavioral pattern spills over to other related types of preparedness such as stockpiling sufficient basic survival supplies, creating plans for family members in cases of evacuation or seeking shelter, having access to protective materials and updating knowledge so as to more effectively deal with biochemical attacks. Beyond this is also married women?s ability to be more prepared psychologically for the tensions and ongoing fears associated with biochemical threats. In short, it was found that women were more highly skilled than men in utilizing the life protection systems made available by Israel?s Home Front Command.

The fact that gender played an important role in levels of preparedness was further explored within the context of Israeli society. Being a man or women in and of itself was not as important as how sexual roles were socially interpreted in family relations and its related cultural-ethnic context. Despite the macho image of Israeli men due to their army experience, who would have been expected to take on the role of protector, all the collateral evidence pointed toward the fact that preparedness fell within the women?s province. The safety and health of children seemed to be of paramount significance and may explain why it was married mothers who made sure their families were best prepared. And, the more and younger the number of children in the household, the more they seemed to be prepared.

Gender-related ethnic-cultural differences also affected levels of preparedness. Despite the fact that Israeli Jewish and Arab women were exposed to similar war-related experiences, the same information sources and available equipment, it was Jewish women who had higher levels of preparedness skills. This was very evident where preparedness involved family emergency planning and having protective means such as a family sealed room or useable gas mask kits for everyone. It is difficult to interpret this disparity without relying on glaring distinctions in female gender roles among the Jewish and Arab respondents. On one hand, we have the more egalitarian gender role prevalent among Jewish women. This contrasts sharply with urban Arab women who face the restrictions of a more traditional society. These culturally based differences appear to have also found their way into how both groups of women perceive and act in the case of a non-conventional terrorist threat to themselves and their families.

Finally, the importance of gender in being prepared for a non-conventional attack undeniably shows that women are truly the gatekeepers for family survival against horrendous threats. The ?mother hen? image of Israeli women protecting their brood is, as this study has amply demonstrated, not a myth but a reality.